The Good Dr. Monkerstein had a post recently in which he remembered a teacher he had in high school who made life a lot better for him. It reminded me of a post I'd been planning on a teacher I remember.
Recently, I watched the 1999 movie Titus. The movie is based on the Shakespeare play Titus Andronicus. It reminded me of the great 1995 version of Shakespeare's Richard III that starred Sir Ian McKellen. McKellen's version was set in an imagined fascist 1930's England, while Titus, though set in Roman times, included deliberate anachronisms, such as motorcycles, modern clothes and such. Both movies remind me of how great and relevent Shakespeare's work is still. And both movies reminded me of who turned me on to Shakespeare-- Holly Haberle, my high school senior year English Literature teacher.
Mrs. Haberle was probably in her forties when she was my teacher. She was a tall, attractive, passionate redhead who could do the impossible-- get a bunch of bored or preoccupied suburban high school seniors to get excited about the Canturbury Tales, Shakespeare, Byron, Shelley and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Since the class was one of the higher-track classes, nearly every class member was college-bound. Senior year, then, counted for little, because our ACT and SAT scores and junior year GPA's were already in to the colleges we had applied to. "Senioritis" it was called. Holly had her work cut out for her.
Yet, she did it. Nearly 30 years later, I can remember the discussions. We read and discussed Hamlet. Was he a brooding, dark prince-- or just a big weenie who couldn't take action? We discussed Macbeth's schemes and discussed if he would have murdered the king himself, of if his ambitious wife had driven him to it. We discussed the world depicted in Huxley's Brave New World in which there was no pain, no heartache, no want-- but also no passion, no curiousity, no love. I felt like I knew each of the characters in The Canterbury Tales personally. I became so interested in Percy Bysshe Shelley I sought out and read a biography of him.
Years later, I realized that I'd made a lifetime decision while in that class: to live life on a level of passion. It's gotten my metaphorical ass kicked in life here and there, but it's been overall worth it.
And looking back on 15 years of teaching, I think that part of it was to fulfill a debt to Holly Haberle, Bill Lally, Elmer Chessman, Barb Krog and a handful of other teachers who brought their passion for their academic subjects and for life to their classrooms and shared it with me.
A couple of months ago, I checked my account at Classmates.com and discovered that my favorite-ever student, Edward Gonzales, had signed my guestbook. I'll save him for "Students I Remember" post in the next few days. Let if suffice now to say that I discovered on www.classmates.com that Edward, a sixth-grader who spoke English as a second language, and had severe learning disabilites when he was my student in 1992-1993, went on to attend and graduate from Columbia College here in Chicago-- he studied graphic design, and now works as a graphic designer. I'm glad that there were other teachers after me who must have encouraged him. I'm glad that I did my little part in it all. The fact that he remembers me fifteen years later says I must have done something right. I hope that there's a handful of others who I helped. Thanks Holly. I hope I've repaid my debt.