aka, a shout out to Mrs. Nall & Mrs. Nance
I can’t name every teacher I had in school. I mean, we’re talking sixteen years! But there are a handful that have stuck in my mind. Those teachers thought outside the box.
I’ll never forget the way Mrs. Sobszak* handled an ADHD kid in my science class in 7th grade. No drugs. No official diagnosis. Just an acknowledgement that the kid had too much energy to concentrate sometimes. She’d send him to the gym to run laps. When he came back, he’d be able to focus. There was Mrs. Lebo who offered to take some of us 9th grade Honors English students to see The Tempest at a local theatre. One of the best experiences I’ve ever had with Shakespeare. Mr. Hughes walked through life with his kids when tragedy struck my Sophomore year of high school. And Mrs. Talley made an impact by being an excellent math and history teacher, and a firm adult I could look up to during a hard time in my childhood. As an adult, I remember those things. And I hope they’ll impact the way I parent one day.
But as a filmmaking writer/director, I especially remember my English teachers. I’ve always tried to be very clear about the beginning of my interest in film. And I have no qualms attributing my fervor to a particular class, an amazing teacher. My 7th grade Honors English class constantly serves as an inspiration for projects, creativity, and the wide variety of storytelling materials out there. And Mrs. Nall brought it all to life. I never would have guessed she had been teaching the same material for years. Her enthusiasm was infectious. She put together the first thing I can remember that would resemble a writer’s toolbox. Onomatopeia**, alliteration, simile, metaphor, etc. She loved language! I vividly remember reading The Most Dangerous Game, A Christmas Carol, The Pearl, and The Call of the Wild in class. They weren’t just exercises or curriculum. In Mrs. Nall’s class, you entered something beyond “school”.
I remember her particular use of film. Most teachers saw movies as something to plop their students in front of when they had other things to do. Mrs. Nall showed a bunch of 7th graders Metropolis, a German silent film made in 1927. I don’t know about my fellow classmates, but I was mesmerized! I had grown up on a staple of mediocre romantic comedies and bad 80’s action flicks. This was film! This was storytelling! There was a collaborative project she had us do, as well, where we tackled a lengthy Grisham novel (we got The Pelican Brief) in sections, then watched the movie to contrast and compare. As the head of the school newspaper, she encouraged exploring other mediums. I wanted to try my hand at a comic strip. She said go for it. I got to use her Mac and worked for hours putting together a horrible comic with what I thought were these amazing things called gradients. But she opened up an entire world of creativity to our little minds. And through it all, encouraged discipline. We had deadlines. But we had freedom as well. My entire 7th grade English experience was interactive, exciting, passionate, detailed, and engulfing. Mrs. Nall is often on my mind.
Mrs. Nance, my Junior year Honors English teacher has been on my mind lately too. In recent years, I’ve started calling myself a writer. But really, I’m fumbling through the whole experience. I don’t think I have a natural talent for it. My sentences are hacked and molded over time. And if they’re not, you can tell. (Like in my blogging…) Mrs. Nance pounded a particular word into our hormone crazed adolescent minds: SPECIFICITY. We thought we were being specific. But she demanded an advanced level of detail and lingual interaction in our writing. A lot of our work that year revolved around novel analysis. And she always insisted we look deeper. Details are important. And that has become my mantra lately. Be more specific. Engage readers on a deeper level. Encourage them to explore other senses. Paint an experience in their minds. And with that mentorship, she allowed freedom to express ourselves with videos and collaborations that would develop our sense of creativity and perspective.
My current career was founded in my youth with these women. And my interactions with my own kids one day will be shaded with all that I learned from the teachers in my life. Sometimes I think teachers have been under-valued so long that they’ve given up being the inspirational leaders they’re supposed to be in a kids life. In thinking so much about my teachers and the influence they’ve had and continue to have on my development, I wanted to be sure to say again how much I appreciate these women’s passion for learning, thought, and creativity and their ability to stir the same in the kids they teach. Thanks for a lifetime of lessons.