The teachers who have most influenced me

Debbie over at Girl With Pen tagged me for a meme which offers participants the opportunity to reframe all the grabby materialism of the holiday season by focusing on what we've received that we're grateful for. Since I am exceedingly un-spirited this holiday--feeling downright Grinchey, in fact--I was happy that Debbie invited me to answer the following question: "Who are the teachers who have most personally influenced you and how?"

Although I've had many, many wonderful teachers in many areas of my life, I'm going to focus on actual school teachers. Since I've ended up devoting my life to education, their influence has obviously meant a lot.

1. Cathy Moran at the hippie private school I attended for grade school. This was the most rag-tag kind of school you can imagine, locating in a housing project, with all the kids who were either too poorly behaved or too smart for the Putnam County, TN, school system. And I loved it. Cathy did creative things like designated every Friday as food day, and we'd go shopping, buy ingredients, and make funky lunches. One Friday it was all different kinds of seafood--I remember being amazed that I was eating squid and shark. Another Friday we fried eggrolls. It was the kind of school where I often didn't have the sense that I was actually attending school at all. And yet I learned enough that when I re-entered the public school system, I was a grade ahead.

2. Jack Sallee, who taught American history at Cookeville High School. We didn't have any AP classes, but he made his Modern History class an AP-style learning experience. We read books, not textbooks. This was the class in which I first read The Feminine Mystique and started thinking about feminism. I also read Eldridge Cleaver's Soul on Ice and was equal parts fascinated and repelled. He introduced us to real ideas and expected us to grapple with them like actual thinkers, not little receptacles who would spit back vocabulary words and dates for a test. My friend Christy and I developed such massive intellectual crushes on him that we made him a book when we graduated, documenting all our good times together (including the all-day hike he took us on and the time he had us all over to his house in the woods for dinner). He got a little teary.

3. Connie Hood at Tennessee Tech. I ended up going to this engineering school for college because of financial considerations, but because of Connie, I got an outstanding education. She directed the Honors Program and a less official program called Mentor, in which she gathered around her all the students who were some combination of smart and socially ill-adjusted (sounds a bit like #1 on this list) and made us read and think and stay up all night talking about big ideas. For instance, a group of us camped out in her basement for a whole weekend reading and interpreting T.S. Eliot's "The Four Quartets." It would be impossible to list all the ways in which Connie influenced my life, but for a start, she's the reason I started therapy and the reason I went to grad school--both decisions that have proved incredibly beneficial.

4. Kurt Eisen, also at Tennessee Tech. Kurt is the reason that, when I went to grad school, I decided to study American literature. He taught me about the literary canon and invited me to start taking it down.

5. Cecelia Tichi and Teresa Goddu at Vanderbilt University. As co-directors of my dissertation, these women reshaped my entire brain. It wasn't always a pleasant process, but it worked. And Cecelia took me on as a personal project, hiring me as her research and teaching assistant, letting me help her run an NEH Summer Institute, taking me for countless coffees and lunches, mentoring me in how to be a scholar and a woman with a life. When I moved to Charleston, she sent me an afghan that her high school English teacher had made for her. She wanted to pass it on to me, and maybe someday I can give it to a special student of mine.

Okay, that was really fun. To share the love, I tag:

Conseula at Afrogeek Mom and Dad
Kelly at Microfamous
Margaret at under my skirt and in my head
Charlie at Where's My Parade
Astraea at Ancora Imparo
Quiche at Shameless Self Promotion


Kelly Love said...

I love this! And you tagged me! I'm going to have to think about this one...

The Mom said...

Wow, Alison! I loved this, too! I'm going to have to call Cathy Moran and Connie Hood & share this with them...OK?

Quiche said...

I'm tagged! They had a similar thing at Zaadz: seven people tagged, tagging seven people...same rules? I'm game. Lemme think about this...

Alison said...

Good question, Quiche--I'm not exactly sure what the rules are. I just got tagged and then tagged a bunch of folks, and I think you're supposed to do the same.

And yes, mom, you can tell Cathy and Connie--the blog is public, so tell anybody you like!

Curtis said...

Jack made a big impression on me, too, though I can't say I ever had a crush of any kind. I'll have to do some thinking to figure out exactly what that impression was though- definitely a positive one. I think it has to do with image- that one can be a relatively grounded, real-life person and an intellectual at the same time? I'm not sure. Maybe that rational thought is something that people who are remarkably different can have in common? But thinking back to Our Beloved CHS, the biggest debt I owe is definitely to Carole Ivey.

Deborah Siegel said...

What an AMAZING list, A!!!! You are not alone in feeling Grinchlike. Love that this meme is spreading a diff kind of holiday cheer. Thanks for playing the tag! :)

Quiche said...

My Zaadz friend "Rapunzel" has posted her response to this (link on my Blogger page), yay! She's such a nifty spirit!