I was just watching the West Wing on DVD. One of the characters, Donna Moss, wanted the President to issue a proclamation because her teacher, Molly Morello, was retiring after 41 years of service in the public school system. She wanted to honour the person who made an enormous difference in the person she became.
Okay, she’s a character on television, but it did make me think.
I started thinking about the people who taught me, who helped me become the person that I am today. First and foremost, there is my mother. I learned about life from her. I learned how to swear in French, I became bilingual because of her – all words, not just the nasty bits. I appreciate art and I love music because of her. She was my main line to understanding feminism and kindness to animals and love and honouring those that you love. Without her, I wouldn’t be the person I think I am today and there is no price on that. Well, that’s my Mother’s Day present taken care of (just kidding, Maman!).
There were others, though. Sorry Mom. First was Mr. LeSalain, my grade 5 teacher (Name changed to protect the innocent – in case he never wishes to remember that he had anything to do with bringing me into adulthood). He recommended me for the ‘gifted program’ and I got in. Fat lot of good it’s done me since, at least on the surface, but I think that it allowed me to think that I was special. I adored him. I even brought him some candy from France – he was born and bred from the same area as my Mom, so there was an automatic affinity drawn from the soil. I brought him “Cachous Lajaunie” – they are licorice candies that you can get in France and occasionally elsewhere, when there is a plethora of Francophiles in the vicinity. They were rare and hard to come by in the early 80’s though. My point is that he cared. He saw something in me and he nurtured it. I remember him for that.
Then there was Mr. Litz. He was my ‘Law and Society’ teacher in high school. He made the whole idea of law interesting and he made me feel like I could become a lawyer. More importantly, he made me feel like I could do anything other than becoming a lawyer too. Once, when I was visiting my grandfather in France and Mr. Litz was there too. I spoke with him on the phone. We talked about what he was going to see and what was worth seeing. Despite being in a room full of boys in the classroom, he recognized the non-shrinking violet aspect to my nature and encouraged it by making me play the part of prosecuting attorney in the classroom courtroom that we were holding. Thank you for that.
There were teachers that were utterly forgettable and there were those that I remember only because we made fun of them, like Mrs. Lemon, our marketing teacher who brazenly displayed her bottle of Valium on the desk in front of her and frequently fell asleep in the middle of her class, only to find the bottle stolen from her by some scamp. But I remember her only because of what happened to her in the hands of rapscallions who wanted to prove their mettle in ways non-academic. Messing with her mind was their way.
At the University of Toronto, only one teacher stands out above all the rest – perhaps because most of my courses had a minimum of 300 students in them. More likely, it was because he loved what he did and it showed. Mr. Black taught me ‘Aboriginal Self-Government’. He was on the original task force that brought about the territory of Nunavut in this country. He was fascinating. His class was fascinating. He encouraged discussion and debate and he was willing to accept many points of view. Perhaps because he had lived such an interesting life thus far – perhaps he could see the value in letting young people talk freely about what might transpire, if they had the chance to make it happen. Not that it would, but the discussion was enough. We had people from all walks of life in the class: Sarah Onesky, Chantal Saville, Percy Ho… It was about the discussion. He knew that. We learned that.
So to all those who undertake that most underpaid and undervalued of professions, we salute you.