“Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” – John C Maxwell
I began to dislike school when my family and I returned to Canada from Italy. I was in grade six and I had to catch up on my English. I was placed in a group for students who had learning difficulties. That’s when the bullying began. Nobody would admit it blatantly, but we were considered less than everyone else. Our peers called us “the stupid group”. Yet, the first thing my new teacher did when I arrived was to take my pen away, replace it with a pencil and tell me to print. In Italy we had always used a pen and we wrote in cursive, since grade one. That’s how “stupid” I was.
When I wasn’t being bullied by my classmates, Mrs L, our art teacher took over the job. She was short with a dark countenance. Her rare smiles were reserved for those she liked and, I was not one of them. At the beginning of the school year, we were given portfolios to store our art assignments. They never left the classroom. We were not allowed to take them home. One day, as I went to add my homework to my folder in order for it to be marked, I found it had disappeared. I trembled as I walked up to Mrs. L’s desk to give her the news. She peered at me over her black-rimmed glasses: “I can’t seem to find my portfolio Mrs.L”. The other kids were already giggling behind me. I remember the fear, the embarassment and, the tears starting to build. My stomach was in a tight knot. “You took it home didn’t you?” I told her that I hadn’t taken it home, that I had left it in the classroom the last time we had art. To make a long, humiliating story short she called me a liar in front of everyone. Her eyes were the meanest I had ever seen. I was punished. I had to come in to school early every day and redo all the assignments she had given us from the beginning of the year. Plus clean the chalkboards and the desks. When Mrs. L arrived she would run her finger over everything to see that it had been cleaned properly. It wasn’t uncommon for her to make me clean twice, I expected it.
From that point on going to school was like being tortured. This feeling lasted until grade eleven, until Mr. White became my English literature Teacher. The “T” is capitalized intentionally.
Mr. White’s eyes smiled behind his wide-rimmed, big, brown glasses on the first day of school. He walked between our desks as he flipped through the pages of a book he held in his hands. After a few moments he stopped, cleared his throat, raised his glance toward us and began reciting:
“To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die—to sleep,
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to: ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
To sleep, perchance to dream—ay, there’s the rub:
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause—there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th’oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of dispriz’d love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th’unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovere’d country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience doth make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action.”
“Hamlet” – Act III Scene I. Hamlet speaking. How could I forget? The class fell silent, we listened, captured by the inclinations in Mr. White’s voice. Louder, softer, pausing, going faster then slower. I wish I could go back to those days, to those moments, to the love for learning, when I forgot the pain from the past and felt the presence of a future.
Mr. White sparked our imagination through passion, his own first and foremost. Shakespeare was not, merely, a part of a program to finish. Reading Shakespeare was not an obligation, rather something we grew to look forward to. Mr. White instilled empathy in us and, by doing so, we learned by feeling, not by memorizing notions. He was not filling containers, he was opening our hearts and planting seeds.
During our lessons with Mr. White we became Romeo, Juliet, Macbeth, Hamlet, Ophelia, Portia… We wrote, we acted, we read, we laughed, we had fun and, we worked hard without even noticing we were. We brought words to life as we came to life ourselves.
Mr. White tapped into our souls. Not an esay thing to do with teenagers.
He showed me how writing was the equivalent of giving your heart to those who would read. But it also meant helping it heal.
Dear Mr. White, thank you. Thank you for telling me that I had talent and, to never stop writing. Remember that poem of mine you had published in “Window On The World”, the one called ‘Hollywood’? My first one ever. To this day it brings solace when life gets rough. It reminds me of you, of the wonderful years spent at Cathedral Girls’ High School. When I read it I can still hear your voice, your laughter. I feel your encouragement and, I continue writing even when it’s hard to do. I have become a children’s book author. Isn’t that something! All because you believed in me.
I remeber once, we were all gathered in the gym for a school event that was taking place. One of many that brought us together, that everyone loved because we got out of class. I believe this is most likely one of the few things that do not change from one generation to the next… Anyhow, a very talented student, with a beautiful voice sang a song that morning, one that I would like to dedicate to you. It’s not Shakespeare, he’s unsurpassable, but it comes from the heart. You were and will always remain “The Wind Beneath My Wings”. That one teacher who made all the difference. Remembering brings tears to my eyes and nostalgia. They say this happens as we age. It’s funny though. I only see age in the mirror. The past is a memory frozen in time. It remains eternally precious and beautiful, like a rose that blossoms in the snow.