Sometimes when I’m stuck for something to write about, I’ll Google “memoir topics”, and long, long lists appear to rattle my memories. I did that today, and the one that rattled the loudest (#10) was to write about my favorite teacher in school.
The school I attended,
was in one of those old brick buildings, a two-story with white pillars at the
main entrance and classes that always seemed to be on the other floor. It had
that old school smell, if there is such a thing, dust, sweat, mildew, and a
faint smoky, kerosene aroma in the wintertime. Although Harrington was, and is,
a small town, around 3,000 souls, the school always seemed crowded, especially
at class changes and lunchtime. When I think back, I was always in a hurry to
get somewhere, shouldering my way through crowded hallways, impatiently waiting
in line for the bathroom, pushing my tray on the cafeteria rails, or running
for my bus after the last bell, hurriedly grabbing necessary books from my
locker then slamming it closed. I don’t remember using any kind of lock. I do
remember a jumble of books, papers, and a smelly blue gym suit thrown in
helter-skelter making that last duty of the day frenzied. It was a long walk
home if I missed the bus. Harrington High School
Mrs. Pollitt was my tenth grade English teacher and also my homeroom teacher for that year. She was a formidable lady with short curly white hair, well-dressed, and a little snobby-looking to my less than snobby eyes. She did not put up with any foolishness, and if I did not do my best, I felt I had let her down rather than letting myself down.
Mrs. Pollitt is 2nd from right.
When I think of her, I see her back, straight and tall, right arm extended and writing furiously on the blackboard, diagramming a sentence. She was all business. When she turned around to ask a question, my stomach would do a flip-flop. I was not only in awe of her intelligence but afraid of her disapproval. Her intense eyes seemed to drill right through me when they hovered on mine and I trembled inside when called upon.
I sat in the farthest row over from the door near the windows, but I dared not look outside. There was no day-dreaming allowed in Mrs. Pollitt's class. Oral book reports were one of my biggest dreads, and I remember doing one on Tess of the D'Urbervilles. Books were assigned, and we had no choice in the matter. Tess was a racy book for a small town tenth grader. It contained almost every emotional situation known to man including rape and murder. I got the normal "speak up" command as my shy, red-faced self stumbled through my written summary. How I ever got A's in her class, I cannot imagine. She never gave the impression of being satisfied, never smiled, and yet I knew I had to do my best.
I have always thought of her as my favorite and most knowledgeable teacher because somehow she made me dig down deep inside myself so that I never got to the point of being satisfied with learning. Although she rarely gave any encouragement, I think her expectation of her students to continually strive to do and be better is what made her an outstanding teacher.