We’re a little confused as to when school starts exactly, but this is as good a time as any to think about the teaching profession. If life were fair, teachers would be the highest-paid professionals in the world. Their job isn’t to cram young people’s minds with information they can regurgitate on command, it’s to teach these young people how to use their minds. They deserve our highest admiration, an admiration which society chooses to lavish on celebrity dimwits.
As in any profession there are good teachers and there are bad teachers. There are teachers who inspire you to reach your aspirations, and there are teachers who try to mock you because you’re smarter than they are. There are teachers who forego lucrative careers in other fields in order to guide ungrateful jerks like ourselves, and there are teachers whose families traded the family carabao to buy them a teaching position because they’re too inept to get a job. And there are teachers who imprint themselves on our minds, whose influence on our lives goes beyond classrooms and report cards.
To mark the start of another schoolyear, we’re paying tribute to our favorite teachers. We invite you to tell us about the teachers who made a real impact on your lives. Post your tributes in Comments. We’ll start.
* * * * *
“Misery” does not begin to describe our four years in high school: we were so unhappy that we hid in the least-used girls’ bathroom in order to avoid all human contact and read books in peace. The horror began to ease only in our fourth year, when we became editor-in-chief of the school paper for a second term. As the school was focused on science and math, literature and the humanities were almost an afterthought in the curriculum. We recommend that anyone who intends to go into literature and the arts attend a science high school: if you can survive having your ego crushed on a daily basis, if you can maintain your resolve despite constant reminders that what you want is not allowed by the system, then you are prepared for the writing life.
In senior year, our Literature teacher was Mrs. Helen Ladera. She was elegant, straightforward, and formidable. The passing grade for Literature may have been lower than that of Chemistry and Calculus, but her teaching standards were consistently high. She demanded the best of her students, and for this she was considered a terror by some. She welcomed and enjoyed unorthodox interpretations of class assignments as long as these interpretations were well-argued.
At the beginning of the schoolyear, she gave us a list of novels from which we could choose four to write papers about. It was this list that introduced us to Tess of the D’Urbervilles, The Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby, The Adventures of Augie March. For some reason she thought we might be interested in a book about Babi Yar, and now that we think about it, this kicked off our interest in Russian literature. She praised us when we did good work, and called us out when we were being jerks, like the time we wrote a wall news editorial asking why we had to take the national college entrance exams when they were so easy.
The word we used was “chickens**t” and she was not amused; we argued, unsuccessfully, that we meant chickensuit, chickenspot, chickenslut, etc. Excessive pride must be punctured early lest the student become an insufferable adult, but the response should be calibrated so that the student’s confidence is not damaged permanently. Even when she was reprimanding us, she never talked down to us. She explained that the issue was not fact, but respect and humility. She did not spew threats as lazy teachers might; she treated us as intelligent humans.
Thank you, Mrs. Helen Ladera. You were badass, and we mean that most respectfully.