Let Us Sit Upon the Ground and Sing Glad Songs to the Memory of Groovy English Teachers

WHEN MRS. BOISVERT TOLD ME in ninth-grade English class that I had the soul of a poet, I grimaced.

“I want to be a scientist,” I said.

She had no answer to that. But she had answers to lots of other things: the importance of Shakespeare, how to compose a good headline, and to write both tightly and brightly. And always to show. Never tell.

Because of Mrs. Boisvert, and my eighth-grade grade English teacher, Mr. Sullivan, I have had a career in newspaper journalism and a modest pile of writing awards. (Also, this nifty blog.) Most of all, though, I have a lifelong, whirlwind romance with the written word and all things ancillary to it.

I remember Mrs. Boisvert as a tremendously smart and highly committed spitting-image of Linda Ronstadt. Sentence structure was her Big Thing. “You have to know the rules before you can break them,” she taught. She cared about verbs, adverbs, adjectives, dangling participles, metaphor, simile, pathos, bathos and other terms whose meaning I have forgotten. But I have never forgotten how she made us care about those things too.

Mr. Sullivan, a longhaired version of Robin Williams’ characters in Good Will Hunting and Dead Poets Society, sticks out in my memory for his exploration of the limits of language. “I want you to write a page on … ” he would begin, and literary merriment would always ensue. Sometimes the page would describe chocolate to someone without taste buds. Or explain how to tie one’s shoes, using only words (i.e., without diagrams). Or address the ineffectiveness of judging someone based on looks alone. Mr. Sullivan had a weekly column in the local (suburban-Boston) newspaper; he made me want to write a newspaper column too.

Good teachers are about more than the subjects they teach. They evoke emulation. They strive for excellence in a way that makes you also want to strive. And they make you fall in love with what they’re teaching, no matter the subject. They teach you that it matters.

Thank you, Mrs. B. and Mr. S. And wherever you are, I hope you know that you matter, too.

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