"You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then - to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.” (Theodore H. White, American journalist)
I would imagine that for most people, high school was a living hell. The pressure to fit in combined with torment from other students often turns what should be a positive growing experience into a voyage for the damned. Although social mores and ideas regarding acceptable behaviour, such as bullying, may have evolved since I attended classes, from what I understand little has changed. Every weekday, not only must one wage war against external factors like academics and general interaction, you have to battle the churning mass of hormones which has taken possession of an almost adult body. The damage done can seem inescapable.I am convinced that during the late 1970s and early 1980s, when I attended high school in Ontario Canada, things were pretty much the status quo at every other school. From what I can remember, and from many conversations shared since, it was pure torture to have to show up and then pretend you really wanted to be there. You had to learn quickly how to blend and weave among the student body. Administration was something to be feared. The members of the teaching staff were either an ally or foe and God help you if you stepped on the wrong set of toes.
Strathroy District Collegiate Institute (SDCI) offered general and advanced courses toward a four or five year diploma. You got to choose your sentence. With little exception, the student body was Caucasian. The school itself sat near the centre of this mid-sized conservative town. Nestled above the downtown core, SDCI looked out over several large, multi-purpose playing fields. Directly beside the school sat the town's conservation area, which still harbours a small lake that feeds into the
The first day of high school is akin to dropping 1500 scavengers into the
"The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called 'truth'." (Dan Rather, American journalist)
Occasionally, as you travel along on the beaten path called an education, someone stands out. You find much needed water in the desert. A counsellor, a teacher or a staff member makes a difference, they connect with you. It might have been the little old lady from the kitchen who made you feel welcome or the janitor who joked with you every day. Some way, somehow you find a ray of hope. You find proof that not everything is chaos. For me, it worked the other way around.
When I walked into room 212 on the first day of grade ten, she greeted me with, "Mr. Daw, welcome. Please take your seat at the front of the class like last year." I could have smacked her. Five years in a row, I walked into that same room to that same face, sneering at me like a rat about to feed. God, I hated her. Five years, five English classes, five travels to the dark side. It got to the point where I liked hating her. I thrived on causing havoc whenever we rubbed shoulders. I actually looked forward to my descent each day. She seemed to find me amusing, frequently playing the game along with me. I was not the chiselled intellectual I now claim to be, so back then she beat me up pretty good. She was one smart cookie. I kept trying and she kept playing. Until the last day of grade thirteen, we snarled at each other whenever we got the chance.
In grade twelve, the fourth level of hell, I got a part in the school production of Anything Goes. The Cole Porter classic was embraced by the entire school and we all performed with grand spectacle. It was, very much so, a success. When I auditioned, I walked into the music room and found myself face to face with my mortal enemy. She sat smiling at me, like she got some rush from the power of making me squirm. When our eyes met, we both almost laughed together.
"The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires." (William Arthur Ward, American writer)
It is always a strange experience for me to look back on my high school days. I will admit I try not to dwell on those moments from my past. I am still somewhat ashamed and humbled at how I treated the people who cared about me the most. Whether my behaviours were grounded in a blossoming chemical imbalance is irrelevant to me. There are no excuses. Even though I was just trying to get through the process, like everyone else, I wish I had paid more attention to the collateral learning my journey manifested. Instead of focusing on all the friction I was so vividly aware of, and created on my own, I wish I had taken the time to notice the more polished aspects from my exposure to greater knowledge.
Modern technology has allowed me contact with some of the voices I once knew from my time at SDCI. Facebook, and other social networking platforms, have granted me access to the world I left behind me years ago. For the most part, this interaction has been positive. A few bitter souls can't seem to move past what may or may not have happened back then, but their unresolved issues only continue, at this late stage, to make them irrelevant. Years of old photographs line the profiles of people that I never really got the chance to know. Such fierce memories, like a spewing volcano, toss me back in with the brimstone and fire that consumed my teenage life.The internet age allows me to view snapshots of the years I spent at SDCI and the faces I had long forgotten. Most have left that small town. Some have just gone. I'll admit that this exposure has me thinking about the time I dwelt in Hades and the people that I once alienated myself from. I have asked myself, who made a real difference? Who left the most enduring impression? It is not an easy feat to narrow down such influence and effect. There are so many faces behind all those names and it is often a difficult thing to even recall them, let alone analyzing any lasting imprint they may have made on my life. Over and over again in my mind, much to my surprise, I kept coming back to her. It would appear that the very thing I despised the most, mattered the most.
I don't remember that I ever skipped Miss Gettas' English class. I liked her lectures and especially the way she taught. It wasn't some old skool method. She allowed each student to partake, to become involved in the depth of each lesson. She made Shakespeare come to life through students acting each part, not just reading it. Blake, Atwood and Salinger became an exploration rather than a dictation. I wanted to go to her class, even though I hated her guts. As a writer, Vivian Gettas taught me more and influenced me more than any other teacher from all my years in the education system. For me, it was not about what she taught but how she taught. It made all the difference. Her instruction still allows me to sculpt my words rather than merely writing them.
“Tell me and I'll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I'll understand.”(Chinese Proverb)
The high school is long gone. In its place stands a retirement home, all sparkling and new. Whenever I pass that way on my visits home, I always note how the building is starkly missing. A new one stands in substitute, just down the road on the edge of town, but this does little to fill the void. Apparently, nothing can replace what used to be. It almost seems that a part of me has slipped away with its destruction. So much invested time and all that remains of it is the hillside, perfect for snow games, and the fields and walkways that lead down to the river.
I recently saw a picture of Vivian Gettas when I checked out the profile of a high school chum on Facebook. Her short hair, her Greek features and those large rimmed glasses all ignited flames once again. They licked at my heels. There she was in all her glory, smiling for the camera with a group of former classmates in some distant hotel room. Her black pointy hat and broom cleverly hidden from the paparazzi. They went to
"The teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind." (Khalil Gibran, Lebanese writer)
Rice Cakes(Originally Posted Tuesday, March 29, 2011)
Theodore H. Whitehttp://www.librarything.com/author/whitetheodoreh