Ah-ha! Moments
Posted 06/11/2014 05:00PM
Todd Matthew, English Department Chair

In my Junior year at Wellesley High School I had the English Department Chair, Mr. Goddard, as my teacher for my English elective on Shakespeare. Mr. Goddard, or “Brooksie”, was larger than life. He stood about 5’10”, but his huge mop of white curly hair easily pushed him over six feet. He was dynamic in the classroom, and I think his teaching style is what I appreciated most. Robin Willams in Dead Poets Society had nothing on Brooksie.

One particular day I was in Brooksie’s class, and the prior night’s reading in The Merchant of Venice had had little impact on me or my peers. We read words on a page by a dead white man and were not particularly moved by the diction or message. I’m guessing our collective lethargy appalled Brooksie, so he slowly climbed on his desk, tattered play in hand, and began reading Shylock’s “hath not a Jew’s eyes” speech. Shakespeare’s words, written almost 400 years before that memorable class, instantly came to life. He was so passionate that he actually began crying. It was at that moment that I realized the power of the written word and that drama is meant to be read aloud. Because Brooksie felt those words so passionately, I had my A-ha! moment and knew I wanted to become a teacher.

Charlotte Zanecchia, HS EAL Teacher

The most memorable teaching moment that changed my life was my sophomore year at the University of Oregon. I was a Geography and Cartography student, and I participated in an interdisciplinary spring program called People and the Oregon Coast at their Marine Biology station. There were 40 students, four professors and two doctoral students. My first Politics class was in the Boat House overlooking an amazing bay with cormorants, whales, and dolphins within view behind our lectures. A young doctoral student got up to teach our first lesson about sustainable development, and I thought it was the best class I ever had. Everything just clicked. I had taken Politics courses before, but this time I understood the theories and analogies perfectly. I thought, “Wow, who is this eloquent guy?” I was mesmerized by the flow of his teaching. I wanted to be able to do that. A year later we were married…. Four children later, he finished his Ph.D. I still can’t do what he does, but he also can’t do what I do. His name is Armando Zanecchia.

Kim Nelson, Photography Teacher

This moment has stayed with me for over 40 years and has reminded me often on the power of words. My hometown was destroyed in a F5 tornado in May 1968. Since most of the ES schools had been destroyed, we were often bussed to neighboring towns for classes and events where we had different teachers all the time. One day we were in the tiny town of Floyd, Iowa using their community center gymnasium. I remember we were doing a basketball unit and had new teacher on one particular day. I have no idea what her name was. After class she pulled me aside to talk with me. I remember exactly what she looked like: red hair, cat-eye glasses, white blouse, blue shorts. She asked me if I was going out for basketball next year in junior high. I said I didn’t know. Then she said, “Well, you should, because you are going to be a very good player.”

These few words might not seem like a big deal, but no one had ever said I was good at sports, though I often dreamed of competing. Needless to say, I got a hoop the next week, and I did play basketball through college. I was not necessarily the best player, but I never forgot her words.

This moment has two parts. First, this teacher’s words made my eleven-year-old day and gave me confidence. And now, as a teacher and parent, I am reminded of how powerful just a few words can be when talking to our own children or our students.

Dr. Chris Love, English Teacher

Back in the day—way back in the day—I was an economics major and a freshman in college. Through the vagaries of course scheduling, I ended up taking an upper-division literature course on Chaucer. My professor, giving the first lecture of the course, began reading from the “Prologue” of The Canterbury Tales. In Middle English. I looked around to see if anyone looked as confused as I was. No luck. To be sure, this professor struck the expected note of eccentricity: the shock of white hair, the scraggly goatee, the horn-rimmed reading glasses, the rumpled suit, and of course, the outstated and vibrant love of archaic languages.

One day, he ‘wanted a word with me’. Nervous and bemused, I stumbled into his poorly-lit office on a sunny fall afternoon. Leaning towers of papers and books littered the ramshackle space. We took our prescribed seats on either side of his desk. He leaned over and asked, “Young man: do you read Chaucer on the john?”

I was too stunned to confess that I did not read The Canterbury Tales on the john.

“I can see that you don’t,” my professor said. “That’s too bad.” He sighed. I furrowed my brow. A silence followed. He leaned forward and propped himself up on his elbows. “Read on the john. Especially Chaucer, because he’s earthy. Literature is earthy, young man. Plus, my oncologist tells me I should have read on the john.”

He sat up, fumbled around a drawer in his desk, and handed over a paper riddled with bright red marks. It was my essay on “The Prologue” and a “C-” was blazoned across the top. I sat up, prepared for a long disquisition on all the reasons my mind and prose fell short of his expectations. The merest trace of a smile seemed to form itself. “Dump your thesaurus. It’s not doing you any favors. Think before you write. Pay attention to what we’re reading. And read Chaucer on the john. You might just get an A in this class.”

He stood up, pat me on the shoulder, and sent me on my way. And here I am.

Frank Long, Photography Teacher

After five years and several changes of major it was time to graduate from college. It was a time in which I saw my classmates interviewing for entry level jobs at large corporations where they would have starting salaries comparable to what my father had earned after 20 years of service with the same company.  Middle level management was something to be hoped for as a stepping-stone to higher office. My friends didn’t want to wait for something to trickle down.

My studies, however, had taken me away from the practicalities of the job market.  I had lost myself in my curiosity and my mentors had shown me that this was a pursuit of passion.

This passion remained wrapped up in the world of the university. In my own mind I thought that these pursuits were still the pastimes of youth, and that after graduation, I would be forced to choose an adult course for my life. Like my father and my brother, a career in the law seemed inevitable.

It didn’t bother me at all that my degree was in Visual Arts.  As far as the effect that would have on my qualification for Law School, I knew of many History majors, English majors and Physics majors who were before the bar. My undergraduate degree was simply a point of departure, a certain kind of stamp on life’s passport that showed where I had been more than where I was going.

I had entertained fantasies of being an artist.  But there wasn’t enough reality or practicality in such dreams to make them seem achievable. Coming from a family of hardworking, depression survivors, there was no basis to imagine work in the arts or any art related field.  It simply wasn’t a part of my world.  Art required talent. I couldn’t draw well, and I had no great ideas.  Besides, as my mother reminded me, how could an artist make a living?

So I was in the Visual Arts Department office going over the paperwork that would confirm my completion of the graduation requirements. I was speaking with the department secretaries and advisers, getting the proper signatures, stamps and documents. I ended up in the office of the woman who followed the course choices of the undergraduates and advised the graduate students. As she looked over my transcripts she asked casually what my plans were. I replied that I was going to continue working for the local radio station for a while, and also to assist a History professor who was paying me $7.00 an hour to type the manuscript of his book into the computer. 

She stopped shuffling the papers and looked up at me. She said, “No, Frank, I’m looking at your transcript and I’m reading what your professors have said about you, and I want to know where you’re thinking of going to graduate school.

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