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Saturday, February 11, 2017

Making A Difference

Who was the best teacher you ever had? What made that person's teaching so memorable for you?

Both when listening to interviews or reading memoirs, I'm regularly struck by the high praise notable authors, musicians, and filmmakers give to the influential teachers in their lives. I've also lost count of how many novels have moving passages about the power one attentive or committed teacher can exert on a mind.

"I'll not punish you for having a good imagination." Those are the words Francie Nolan's kind teacher tells her in "A Tree Grows In Brooklyn" (1943) after Francie admits she made up a wild story about a poor family to explain why she herself wants the pumpkin pie the teacher offered to her students. In fact, Francie is near starvation. Later in the same scene, the teacher helps Francie unravel another mystery.

"Truth and fancy were so mixed up in her mind ... that she didn't know which was which. But the Teacher made these two things clear to her. From that time on, she made up little stories about things she saw and felt and did."  This anecdote has the clear ring of truth for me. My own high school English teacher Mrs. Cavico strongly encouraged me to continue writing poetry.

"A Tree Grows In Brooklyn" 
began literary life as author Betty Smith's memoir, later to be changed into a novel on the advice of an editor. So, here is a perfect example of the profound impact teachers can have. Betty Smith is encouraged to give her imagination free rein and later goes on to create a modern day classic, a coming-of-age story with a teacher in the wholly appropriate role of change agent.   

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