I graduated from high school way back in 1986 but every year, in the run up to the Labour Day weekend, I feel a twinge of anxiety during back to school commercials. Okay, a little more than a twinge. Let’s call it trepidation. Roughly once a year (although not always at summer’s end) I dream there’s been some kind of mix-up and that it turns out I wasn’t eligible for a high school diploma after all and have to return to obtain a missing credit.
This isn’t my favourite dream.
You’d probably assume, from what I’ve said so far, that I had a grim time in high school. But truthfully my experiences were stunningly mundane and mediocre. I never made the Honour Roll yet never failed a class (I squeaked through grade 13 math with a 50% final grade which partially explains the dream). I was neither popular nor bullied. Basically, most of the time school didn’t make much of an impression, except for seeming endless which in turn made me restless and in a hurry for the experience to be over with. Not until I reached university, where I could focus on subjects I was genuinely interested in, did I feel fully plugged in to my education.
But even back while I was feeling generally restless (so much homework, so many deadlines!), there were teachers who kept me from drifting too far off course just by virtue of being themselves—passionate about the subjects they were teaching and empathetic and encouraging towards their students. No matter how you feel about school—love, hate, indifference—I’m sure you have some of these teachers too. They make your favourite subjects even more interesting and the ones you dread, bearable. They inspire you; they forgive your shortcomings but encourage you to reach higher; they make you feel that in a sea of students your individual education is important to them. They’re excited about sharing their knowledge with you and still more excited when they can see you’re excited about acquiring that knowledge too. They make you want to live up to the potential they see in you. These special teachers, they’re GOLD.
Two of these extraordinary teachers were my English teacher, Mrs. Burns, and Mr. Pignataro, who taught me world religion and American History. Mrs. Burns was the first person outside my family who I shared my personal short stories with. In effect she offered me my first critiques, ones brimming with a generous enthusiasm that boosted my confidence, encouraging me on the long path to becoming a writer. Mr. Pignataro was a force of positivity, approaching every lesson and each student with infectious zeal and warmth. He made every hour you shared a classroom with him brighter.
So for those of you feeling anxious about heading back to school, I can honestly say I empathize, but at the same time, when I remember my favourite teachers I feel a little jealous. Like John Steinbeck wrote, “I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.” Have a good year at school, appreciate the gold!
You can find CK Kelly Martin’s latest YA novel The Sweetest Thing You Can Sing at Mabel’s Fables bookstore in Toronto!
Kitten photos by J.Lee Photography!