Thursday, May 17, 2012

Tribute to my High School Teachers: The Diagnosers!!!



If all of the high school teachers I love/d were in a band together, the band would be called: The Enlightenments. It would be a wacky band, for sure. A mix. A little classic rock, a little punk rock, a lotta funk rock, some rock opera, some straight up classical, and a bit of blues strewn through a jazz base (not a jazz bass). 'Cause, at first glance, they appear to be jazz catz. After reading this you might have some idea as to which instrument each would play. I have my ideas. Who would play the triangle and who would play the keyboard and who would handle the stringed instruments. So many posse-bilities. I, all too willingly, would be their guest vocalist and interpretive dancer anytime! They would perform in coffee houses, mainly; but they would have to up their venue to art galleries and jazz clubs because of how incredibly popular the gig would be. Teenagers clawing at and climbing up the yellow school buses just to get a glimpse of the garden-bag-toting guitarists! The Enlightenments. The raddest band to hit the circuit. For Straight-As and Drop-Outs alike. Totally gnarly. Stone Age meets 80s meets 19th Century style. Funk that shit!

Yeah, dude, The Enlightenments know how to rock soft and stroke hard. Not to be confused with the Employeez - a band my dad was in in the early eighties, right before I was born. Bill Mason was a high school drop out, anti-establishment musician. He had dreams. He wanted to do what he loved (making music) and be with his high school honey (Susie, my momma) and make it BIG. Ass-pirations, we all have them. Some of us make them come to life - like me, I ass-pire to be transcendental English teacher and established anti-establishment writer and TAKE A LOOK AT ME NOW. I know what you're thinking: WOWZA. Yes, I share the sentiment. I look good, real good. I'm in tip top shape, I'm on my way. Just like my pa. Speaking of Pa, he was a member of The Employeez - a drummer. They made good music. The lead singer and song-writer was Roger. That's all I know about him. Roger, he sounds employable. I fancy he might be a fine pickpocket. I think he was going in more of a pop direction than my dad and the other members wanted, but that's sheer speculation. I wish you could hear the album (well, the (one) cassette, I think only one copy remains...and I will find it during my next trip to Buffalo). My dad was the drummer. Picture big lips and a big space between his teeth, long, almost-mullet coarse black hair, a skinny waist in tight black jeans and a orange and brown striped short-sleeve button-down shirt. The Employeez, they could've made it big if I hadn't been born. Word, yo. I, little crying baby Jesby, was the end of The Employeez.

My dad had to decide to either give up the baby for the band or give up the band for the baby. Bill Mason gave up the band and became a real live employee. Ah, life kinda has a way of trying to suppress the music in our souls. He chose me (or: he chose my mother who chose me - but that's just my spin on the sin). He, ack patriarchy, chose to have The Baby (WAHHH, they'll never get rid of me...). He became an employee at Amherst Electronics on Sheridan Drive, right near Tony's Restaurant. I never got to go to Tony's as a kid but I feel nostalgic when I pass by from the days of Amherst Electronics. We used to go back into this electrical room (another clever name for a band: The Electrical Room. See, I'm just a powerhouse of creativity. Hire me NOW!). I don't know what it was, but there were buttons everywhere. It smelled like machines on fire. My father would sing "Hey, my name is Joe, and I work in a button factory..." I miss those days. The thrill of a candy machine, if only it could do it for me now.

I was born because the Employeez disbanded and let go of their collective dreams. No more Employeez, just eight-pound me. Gee, now I feel kind of guilty. How can I make it up to them? Hmmn. First, I'll try to get a job so that I can bring The Employeez back to life by bringin' home the bacon. Then I'll form an all female band (of English teachers - my English teaching colleagues) and we'll call ourselves the En(g)lightenment Employeez. One of our hit songs will be "Go to Work." Another will be, "Hit the Books." And, just to harken back to the days of the first Employeez from Buffalo, New York, we'll do a remake of the popular "Soap Opera Sweetheart" called "Shakespeare Sweet Tart." I'll wear my cardigan sweater and vintage matchstick cords for that - and we'll all have on neon wayfarer sunglasses. A glow in the dark band of English teachers. We gonna rock it, fo sho. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Tonight what I really want to write is a tribute to the fabulous, the fetching and the farfetched high school teachers who affected so deeply my little old life.

The relationships I formed with my teachers in high school were more memorable to me, on the whole, than those I formed in college. I don't know if that is because of the way I was at the time (friendly, personable, generous, enthusiastic, joyful - I like to think of myself as bearing some resemblance to the infectious little woman I used to be, though I probably complain and frown a lot more now); if it was a result the environment (of being a student at, what a former professor of mine likes to call, the Craziest High School on the Planet - a school without walls), if it was the open-classroom design of Witchesville East; if it was the specialness of the teachers themselves (teachers aren't a dime a dozen, are they?); if it was the result of my rapid brain development; if it was some quality about the high school classroom, in general, that renders it more conducive to community-formation, nurturance, and higher (spiritual) learning than other types of classrooms; or if it was a combination of all of those factors. I tend to interpret through a comprehensive and collaborative lens, so to me it makes sense that the forces (for spiritualists and witches) or factors (for mathematicians and scientists) combined to make my experience with the upper half of high school life the quintessential beginning to the Age of my Enlightenment.

Yes, in high school I got high every single day, at night and during school hours, on enlightenment. I also created and performed full color-spectrum art, so my Age of Enlightenment was also my Renaissance. Holy unholy! Never mind the Dark Ages that were going on at home. I guess it was the mother of all intellectual births during a time of chaotic -and medieval- upheaval. A cosmic border-crossing, time-traveling fragmented triad of awakening. If you look in isolation to the Enlightenment Dimension, remembering the influence of the Dark Ages and the Renaissance but not getting bogged down in it, you will find that my awakening was the birth of my learning: of questioning, of considering, of hypothesizing, of experimenting, of theorizing, of answering, of questioning again. Before my awakening, I possessed neither sense nor sensibility. I was the embodiment of a Dark Age on the verge of radical change. Change or die, it would come to that yes.

The person who bore me into sense and sensibility was Ms. ?. Insert mystical moonshine. Bow down now, in a moment of silence and reverence, and think of the good she did me. You should. 'Cause she did me a lot of good. I believe if I had never met her I would have remained a prisoner to my ignorance and stayed in a period of ubiquitous darkness for a long time - possibly forever. It seems very likely to me that I would not have been able to survive that dark for much longer. If I had the queer feelings (that had always been there) and no one to teach me (introduce me to) the notion that I might be able to articulate my inner experience. She was my someone. She is the dark horse/star (I first wrote "hose" - Freudian Fingerslip?) of MY Enlightenment and the most misunderstood member of the band, The Enlightenments. For she plays the words and she plays them well. She plays the words AND turns the page. And when she stops playing, the words play themselves. She was an Enlightenment (and Eng-lightenment) and a Renaissance unto herself. She brought me, not completely out of my Dark Ages, but into my Enlightenment and Renaissance. She taught, and I learned. And then, after that, I taught and she learned. Then, we taught and we taught. Some of The Enlightenment band members spread rumors that she was going to break apart from the band to start a new band of her own, called The Pedestals. It never materialized though, she's still a member of The E. The woman rocks in the classroom, she is the most clever and creative person that ever...taught in a high school English classroom.

Ms. ? and I, together, shared a mutual period of Enlightenment (of birth, of awakening). I do not expect that there will ever again, in either of our lives, be THAT kind of magical and spiritual and perhaps scientific period of awakening Enlightenment. Abstract, come to life. It did. It most certainly did. The fact that we shared it with each other, both filling the roles of teacher and student, connects us immeasurably (or measurably, if you think you're the scientist to solve that equation). So, to my Eng-lightened mind, she, Ms. ?, is the epitome of high school education. The fine arts, the finest. But I'm en-lightened enough to know that learning -through creation and art, through the memory of the dark- does not end until the mind reaches its last moment of light-dark death. Ms. ? is teaching others, like me. She is learning from others, like me. She is sharing moments (maybe even periods) of Eng-lightenment with others. I am so touched by the thought of it, I cannot describe to what extent. And I, carrying my Dark and my Light with me, am doing my best to enlighten myself and others. She has a gift, the gift of Eng-lightenment, and she's busy drawing from its power source for the benefit of herself and others. Thanks be to Goddess! She is a crone, the most fascinating manifestation of all of the goddesses. Self-proclaimed, too. I love her to the moon and back (and then to the moon again!), and I will wait to see her and make my dedication in her honor until the moon ceases to be lit by the sun. That long. I'm an enlightened fool for life, thank you very much. I am not indebted to Ms. ? for the way in which her lessons and our personal connection influenced my life. I simply adore her, admire her, respect her. Oh, don't get me wrong. She's human alright (See Dorothy Loudon for details). She's human and she can't stand on a pedestal on her own for very long, but she is the most interesting and brave kind of teacher there is. If you appreciate wit, intelligence, creativity and straight up (well, sort of) sarcasm doled out fairly and appropriately, then you will appreciate Ms. ?. If you can get a seat in one of her classes, go - go now. Spend all your life savings and buy the ticket. No refunds. If you are unsatisfied with her lecture, then you get an F and you are a loser (I don't mean to be rude, even a loser is lovable!). I am enlightened because I ended up in her classroom. I did not even have to pay the price of admission. I got in for free. Lucky me! I cannot say enough about Ms. ? and so I won't try. Light be with her whose gift is enlightenment.

Enough about that Super Schooling Sorceress; there are others from the East, not quite so mighty and connected to my Lovelightenment but amazing just the same, that I want to tell you about. Mrs. AB, for instance, she was the English teacher who preceded and followed the Ms. of P(ower). Mrs. AB was lovely. I miss her. I love the way she engaged so fully in books - she cared almost too much. It was unbecoming to many students, but delightful to me. I appreciate that, because I, like her, care too much. Mrs. AB reached out to me when I was a sophomore in her English class. I had been collecting articles and writing journal entries about teen depression. A journal entry I wrote, in response to a teen-magazine article on teen suicide, worried Mrs. AB. She called my mother before talking to me, because she was concerned. When I came home, my mother told me about the whole conversation and asked me about my journal. I felt extremely defensive. I had not, in fact, been feeling at all suicidal. I just had a lot of insight into and empathy for suicidal ideation because a couple of my close friends had recently (by recently, I mean a year ago) shared their struggle with depression and suicidal ideation with me. I also had this one incident during Freshman year, during the period of suicidal disclosure with my friends, that I attempted to press a steak knife into my wrist for about twenty minutes after I had been fighting with my mother over my decision to abstain from participating in some choral or drama activity.

During Freshman year, my mother and I had it out quite a lot. Nothing like during the Dark Age of my Enlightenment but still intense nevertheless. By the time I made it into Mrs. AB's classroom, to read A Prayer for Owen Meany and discuss the concept that "believing is seeing;" I was at the point in my pre-birth (uteral?) development in which I wanted to blather on at a high speed about my every thought. Oy, I'm afraid I continue the tradition even now that I am safely (?) out-of-the-womb! I was very upset at the time that Mrs. AB called my mother. I was concerned about my image, worried that she (Mrs. AB, not momma) would think less of me if I was suicidal. She struck me as an opinionated, somewhat-controlling, box-loving person (hey, it takes one to know one), and I wanted to be in control of her perception of me. Having her speak with my mother felt infantilizing. My mother, back then, represented to me over-control and domination. I wanted to be an adult (still do...) and I saw my mother as being the one who was holding me back from being my adult self. She was standing between me and maturity! I didn't want her standing in my way, as calculated and Joan Crawfordy as that may sound. And I surely did not want anyone in my Adulthood Circle (Mrs. AB) finding out, from my mother, that I was a child. Eek! I wanted her to know me the way I wanted to be known, not the way my mother wanted me to be known (or saw me).

Even though I felt anxious and annoyed at Mrs. AB for being reactive, I admire her for her  direct, hands-on (the phone) approach. I see her decision now, as a full-blooded adult (which, it turns out, is not all it's cracked up to be), as a responsible and competent one. Though I think if I were in her shoes, I would talk to me and assess the situation further before calling home. You never know what a student is facing at home, sometimes you might make things worse when you're trying to do the right thing. There is a chain-of-command that make sense: asses the situation by talking to the primary person involved, and then -if necessary, if you fear the adolescent is a threat to her own safety- protect the adolescent by speaking with a school counselor or social worker. Mrs. AB was relatively new to the job. I do understand, though, that suicide is a serious issue that sometimes requires competence, quick-thinking and immediate action. My mother and I reassured Mrs. AB that I was not suicidal, and then it was business as usual. Which was fun and enjoyable. I loved Mrs. AB's discussion-based classroom. She was an excellent counselor to her students. I share a love of counseling, which is why hers was my favorite class sophomore year of high school. Feelings and interpretations. Interpretations and feelings. Disclosure and analysis. And more disclosure.

We were two peas in a pod, in terms of our passions and interests in the psychoanalytic and humanistic reading of books. Each of us knew how to take an intuitive counselor's eye to the page. Sometimes the fact that we were so alike would cause us to get into snarky situations, but only on rare occasions. Both hot-headed, both emotional, both a wee bit moody, both loving, both theoretically compassionate, both judgmental in practice, both fiercely loyal to Ms. ?. Mrs. AB introduced me to literature. I credit her with helping me enjoy an academic class for the first time. She cared so much about the plot and the characters (perhaps more than the language element) that I could not help but relate. I cared about the plot and characters (in my soap operas!), too. Human relationships, I was all about it. I was so touched by her level of caring for the narratives within the narrative that I could not help but care about them, too. Ditch the soaps, get thee to a bookshop! That's sort of what happened, thanks to Mrs. AB. She expected us to do the work, she was sincere and sometimes naive. I was a huge advocate of her in the classroom. When other students were cruel or inattentive, I aligned myself with her and supported her classroom by being a role model for other students. I engaged. It was fun, we had fun - and I wasn't used to that in any academic class prior to hers. I was scared of literature and of anything academic at the time, and she made it approachable. She did not do for me what Ms. ? did (heh - In her classroom!!!), but she prepared me for what was to happen when I entered Ms. ?'s class. Mrs. AB was prep for Ms. ?. God love her! She loved learning and wasn't afraid to be nerdy about it. God love her! I can't say enough about how much her friendship mattered (matters) to me. She was inspiration, truly. And fun. She was a sister in our sisterhood. The Order of the Sisters of Love and Language Arts. An instrumental (!) sister, indeed.

The Head Mother of the Order of the Sisters of Love and Language was my Garden Club buddy, my pen pal and my English teacher. My god! My godmother, actually. Mrs. R. One of the most important and pivotal people in my life. BR came into my life like an angel at exactly the time that my mother was disowning me because of my uncovered lesbian identity. BR was not the source of my Enlightenment or my Renaissance; she was the kindred spirit to my heart. She was a true blue friend and a godmother angel. The funny thing is that BR did not start out as my teacher; we met each other in a social context and became friends. I heard an announcement for Garden Club on the last day of school in 2001 and was afraid no one would show up. I thought about how awful it would feel for the teacher, BR - whom I did not know well at all back then, if no one showed up at her meeting. Garden Club didn't seem like something that would attract the typical teenager. That explains why: I was the girl for BR! I decided right then and there that I HAD to show up. So I talked to a close friend of mine, who knew BR, and we went to the meeting together. We were the only ones there. Thank HEAVENS we showed up. I swear I walked into that room and there was a halo shining about BR's beautiful head. She shook my hand firmly and warmly, I smiled and giggled, we walked around the building to talk about putting flower beds in the tree boxes, she told us excitedly about what she envisioned for the club for the upcoming year, I felt incredibly touched by her sincerity and belief in the club - and that was it. We were instant friends. She introduced me to gardening, to herself, her life and all the things she enjoys. I became a gardener because I cared about what she loved and I wanted to share in the joy that she wanted to share with us.

It could have been anything (if not gardening, then knitting); but it was the fellowship that was essential. Depending on one another, enjoying the company of one another, brightening each other's days. She took an interest in my singing and shared all the things she loved with me. I shared all the things I loved and all the things I thought she would love with her. We had the best kind of relationship there is. We were there for the joy, for the journey. We had different tastes in books. I brought her bookmarks that I knew she would like and drew chalk vines on the edges of her boards. She asked me to water her ferns. Every job she gave me was a gift. I know that now more than ever. I like to help and I thrive that way. She could tell I needed to feel important and needed, and she gave me opportunities to feel that way - to feel helpful. BR was the mother I did not have at the time. She took care of me, brought me her copy of a book to borrow if I did not have one of my own, gave me a ride home if I did not have one. She asked me questions and gave me the gift of being able to share my answers with her. She laughed at me, she let me laugh at her, we laughed together. She whispered to me about her no good, very bad days in the corner of her room and let me borrow her floral blanket if I wasn't feeling well. She brought me with her and taught me how to do things - how to care for plants, what certain flowers needed, who to call to order the bulbs. Then she gave me the phone number and let me make the call myself.

My BR treated me like an equal - like a competent and helpful person, while also caring for me in a motherly way. How I love that woman with all my heart and how I sometimes believe in God because I cannot fathom the necessary timing of her entrance into my life! How I miss the days when I could sit in her classroom and read - and feel at home. How I miss the days when I could run (skip and hop) to school to go up to the second floor and set all of my bags under her desk for the day because I knew she would let me and because I knew she would be as happy as I was to have me do so. How I miss being able to bring a lemon poppy seed muffin to her because she told me how much she enjoys a good lemon flavored baked good. Being able to give was the gift she gave me. Giving and receiving, that's what it's all about: teaching and life. BR, my warm and wonderful godmother teacher guardian angel, brought such joy to my life. I don't care what she plays in the band, she's a natural. She'll warm up any venue. I felt her sincere, unabashed, uncomplicated love every day. She was my best mate in high school and she'll always be my godmother in life. Bless her soul!

There were many teachers and staff members I liked and admired so very much in high school. Mr. Spinley, who made us laugh, even when we failed his U.S. History exam. Mr. Harsch, who would raise his eyebrow and give us the "I don't know about this" look when we made ridiculous videos involving Barbie dolls in his media class. Mrs. Scheiderer, with her gorgeous silver-white bob, who would sing french songs and sternly encourage us to improve on the next exam. Mrs. Taylor Coté, who would always greet us with a smile and good cheer when we paid for our lunches in the cafeteria. Mrs. Hallock, who was soft-spoken but kind, welcoming and helpful when it came anything and everything. Miss. Hill, who was as old school as they come and as sincere, too. Mr. Kryder, who was beloved by almost every student and made an art of his laid-back and out-of-the-box approach to teaching. Miss Bonanno, who showed us her Buffalo Jill cheerleading moves and didn't care who the hell thought she was out of her toddler rocker during Government. Mr. Miranda, my second or third Italian cousin, who shared inspirational philosophical quotes with me, before he grew his hair long enough to braid, and who was almost adopted into our family by my parents when he and my sister became best buds. I know I am missing so many, I did not have a chance to know them all up close and personally. Of the ones I knew, I liked most of them. Some were more memorable -to me personally- than others.

There were two teachers, in particular, who helped me and brought joy into my life during my senior year. Mrs. Hartley and Mrs. Day. I am using their real last names because I don't think they would mind a bit if I did. I have only positive things to say! Mrs. Hartley was my math teacher. She was funny. Funny in an Ellen DeGeneres kind of way. In a fast-paced city kind of way. I can still imagine exactly how her voice sounded, the Boston accent. Loved her humor, the woman was god awful funny. Every day, funny.  Not mean, just funny. She even made me feel funny - and that requires talent! She could also dish it out with the best of 'em if someone was giving her some bullshit excuse. She knew how to cut to the chase, cut through the lies, cut through the excuses, cut through the nonsense and get to the point. I guess that made her a great math teacher. Aside from those generalizations, Mrs. Hartley means so much to me because of her big, big heart. She was not fake, she was not a liar, she was not a pretender. She was real. Real and approachable.

I used to have to get these things, these yellow slips, when I was a senior in high school. They were pieces of paper torn from a yellow legal pad and folded in half. On the outside was "Jessica," always in the same slanted cursive. On the inside was a short note, reading something like "See you at 11:30 today. - Mr. Shusset." See, the note was from the social worker. I had to see him a couple of times a week to discuss what was "going on" in my life. He was the person assigned by the administration to make sure that unlawful behavior, anything that the school could receive unwanted negative attention for or a lawsuit over, was not occurring. He had to keep an eye on me. Trust me, I assured him that I had it all under control. I was an actress, I could play whatever he wanted me to play. Usually being myself, with a good deal of censorship, was enough. And I suppose I really did have it all under control...at the time. Whenever I received a yellow slip appointment reminder, it was always delivered by Mrs. Hartley. She was a perfect messenger. I could not have hoped for a better one. When I first had to receive the yellow legal (!) reminders, I felt ashamed and embarrassed. I had never had "this" kind of attention directed toward me. I was the Broadway star, not the one in the social worker's office. But not really. Really I was the one in the social worker's office - and everyone got to know about it.

Mrs. Hartley helped me through that adjustment. She looked me in the eye and asked what was going on. I think I must have tried, in some small way, to explain. She didn't need an explanation. As soon as she got the idea, she got the idea. She looked at me, directly, and told me I had nothing to feel ashamed about. She told me to come talk to her any time. I knew she meant it, but Mrs. Hartley always meant what she said. You could trust her. She let me know that I had nothing to feel ashamed of and that I was just as good as anyone else at East. She was brave and bold, and she could and would say whatever was on her mind. At first I was embarrassed about the yellow slips, but over time - because of Mrs. H - I felt proud to receive them. I felt proud to be me. I stopped feeling ashamed. I felt a sense of purpose, and I believe that I could help other students by being open and honest about my problems. About the fact that I had to get a yellow slip and see the social worker on a weekly basis. About the fact that I was a lesbian. Mrs. H gave me strength to do so because she let me know she was not ashamed of me. What once made me feel uncomfortable soon made me feel special. I loved getting the yellow slips, it was my favorite part of Mrs. Hartley's class. It gave us a moment to interact at the beginning of class, when she would call my name, "Miss. Mason," and then hand me slip. As I became more comfortable, she picked up on it and treated the yellow slips with humor as only she can. She would say the funniest things about the yellow slips. It became a source of mutual connection. Mrs. Hartley was a source of authenticity, like so many of my beloved teachers at Witchesville East.

Mrs. Day, my favorite physical education teacher of all time and one of the most energetic and fun teachers of all time, was a huge source of joy during my upper-division high school era. Mrs. Day, she was motherly with me. And she had a shaved head with bleached fuzz on it - she and her husband had identical hairstyles, both wore white sneakers to school every day and both were gym teachers. Can you get any cuter than that? Well, she was cuter than him. I'm biased, though, as you know. And holy moley was she an enthusiastic life coach. An excellent role model for teenage girls. A leader. An embodiment of feminist ideals. How I HATED having to swim in phys ed class until I was her student, but HOW FUN she made swimming. How I hated going to any physical education class with any male teacher, and how completely AWESOME and fun she made every phys ed class. You have no idea how we laughed during synchronized swimming. The things that woman encouraged us to do. She wasn't self-conscious, she was confident. She got into the pool, turned up the volume on the Aretha Franklin and led us in the goofiest and most fun ever water-dances. She took it seriously and she enjoyed it. I could not help but feel an incredible amount of joy while I was making the goofiest water-dance moves ever. I didn't even care about the stubble on my legs or the way my shorts were forming giant bubbles in the crotch region. I had a blast in the freezing cold water, and I have Mrs. Day to thank. She loved music and dancing, and I bet she would be so sad about Donna Summer's passing.

Mrs. Day danced, everywhere.  In and out of the water. She was our dancing teacher (yes, dancing was part of her curriculum and yes I was allowed to dance with other girls though I doubt I ever did...though I'm pretty sure I danced with Mrs. Day on at least one occasion). On the gym floor, we danced the Hustle, the Bus Stop and the Cha Cha slide. She danced around the room and offered us tips. She was like a dancing sun, a star - a bright burst of energy shooting from here to there and back. I don't know why, but she took me under her wing during my senior year. She treated me as though I were special to her. No explanation, she just did. She overheard me saying to someone that I did not have money to buy my sister a Christmas present. That same day, she told me she had an idea about what I could do for my sister. The next week, she asked me if I wanted to make (yes, sew - on her machine) my sister a pair of pajama pants. A day later, she brought me a few fabrics and asked which my sister would like best. She said I could make throw pillows for anyone else I needed a gift for.

At the next gym class, I walked into the gym and in the small exit hall in the back was a table with a sewing machine on it. I had never sewed in my life. I felt scared for a moment, like I was about to get piercings in all ten of my already torn up fingers. She ran up to me, with all of her excessive enthusiasm, and led me to the sewing machine. I didn't have time to be scared, she believed in me. She told me to wait, and she proceeded to instruct all of the other students to engage in some sort of class activity. Then she came back with me and spent the whole class period teaching me to sew and guiding me through the process of sewing. I managed to do the pants with the sailor boat prints (for my sister) and a purple cloud pillow (for Ms. ?). She made two extra pillows for me and delivered them to me at the end of the day. I will never forget her act of kindness and generosity. Nor will I forget the cheerful way she greeted me in the upstairs hall of East, when I was on my way to work out with my friend, Elaine (Mrs. Day let us listen to music and walk on the treadmills during ninth period whenever we wanted to do it). I felt uplifted, just being in her presence. She had a spiritual gift, and I am so glad she was a teacher - so glad she was a teacher while I was a student. She retired when I graduated, and I don't know what happened to her other than that she and her husband moved to Florida. Mrs. Day was a woman you want to pass in the hall. I hope all of you pass someone like her on your way to wherever you're headed. I'm lucky I did.

And I'm just as fortunate to have worked closely with the last teacher I will tell you about tonight. Keith Wharton, Director of the Drama Club/Plays at East from mid-2001 to late-2002. Keith was a spiritual leader at East. I love the man, yes I love the man! He defies all stereotypes that I have about men, and I love him so! He is a visionary. He came to East with powerful creative, humanistic visions and ideologies. His visions were much like mine (though I did not know mine well at the time). He is the only male teacher that I will focus on, at length, in this tribute. He was not a typical director, not a typical leader, not a typical man. He worked with me, more as an equal than anyone else at East, and we - together and with the members of the Drama Club - formed a community of leadership. We were leaders among leaders. Keith had a vision, and he reserved a place for me (and for everyone else) in his vision. What he did with Godspell was sensational and transformative. Godspell was powerful because Keith's vision was powerful. Keith's vision was the same as mine: the vision was love. He believed in the power of love and he lived like he believed it. He was not afraid to be moved, to be changed, to learn to love more. He believed in the human power of love as the strongest life force - stronger than war, stronger than hate.

Keith directed me on the stage, but he also directed me in life. He gave me the space, the techniques and the means to shine and to be a lead teacher. He made me a leader, not just in the show but in my life. Behind every great leader, there is a Keith. A visionary, a teacher, a leader. Keith taught me to tune into my strengths in order to work for change in art and in life. He supported me while I lead, supported and guided other students in need. I felt, in partnership with him, that we - you, me, all of us - could change and were changing the world. He shared his ideas with us, he listened to us and valued our ideas. He felt part of something important with us - again, the theme of giving and receiving arises. Keith was a giver and he had the visionary courage to give in a powerful way. All of the teachers that I honor in this message shared his courage and ability to give.

I bet right about now you are wishing you were one of my high school teachers. Part of the band. Rockin' out, singing out, preaching to the choirs. Lord, listen to me, I wish I was one of my high school teachers. Wait, I was. I am. Glory to God on the highest! See, I love teaching and English so much that I speak in Catholic tongues and forget all about my anti-patriarchal, secular humanist identity when I speak on the subject. So be it.

To all of my high school educators, especially to Ms. ?: Please accept this tribute for what it is, a thank you. Thank you. I love you.

And now I can go about my night and sleep for five hours. Tomorrow I can go about my day, just a little groggy, and look to a bright future with The Enlightenments! Lead vocals, Jess Mason McFadden.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

ok, now I wish I could have gone to W.E. too!
Alas, I didn't have that opportunity; but I'm very glad that YOU did!