I’ve been thinking about school a lot this week. After all, it is that time of year! My own boys are in high school now, attending separate schools (different kids different needs… sigh…) and having somewhat similar experiences -mostly good, and some excellent- but vastly different from mine. I had an incredible high school experience.
The path leading to that incredible experience began in my sophomore year English class -Varieties of Literature, taught by a marvelous teacher, Janet Laughlin. She was passionate, and dedicated, like so many teachers. I do believe the course was her own creation because none of the other teachers at the school taught this class and it wasn’t offered at the other high school in town, either. We read every kind of written word that existed. Short stories, novels (Silas Marner- I loved George Eliot, she was so brave and progressive) essays, poetry, magazines and newspapers, nonfiction and plays (Shakespeare- Julius Caesar and As You Like It. Oh be still my beating heart, this is where I learned I loved Shakespeare)
There was a written assignment of some kind for every different kind of reading we did. Some of them crossed over. When we read Silas Marner we were all required to write a short story prequel to the novel. When we read essays we wrote poems about the impression the essay left upon us. When we read articles we wrote essays in agreement or disagreement. She was a very creative teacher and her curriculum reflected that.
She taught every portion of the curriculum with incredible energy and obvious love. She was a whirlwind in the classroom, making notes with her color-coded markers on her white board. (She had the only white board in the building that year. She offered to test this new technology for the school. By my Junior year about half the teachers had them.) She encouraged discussion, and dissent and debate, and her classroom was a clamorous, and joyful place.
Mrs. Laughlin had reasonable expectations. She wanted to see a student grow and improve. But she had a pet peeve… and as a woman of action she set up an organization to combat this irritant. She called it S.P.O.W The Society for the Prevention of Overused Words. Mrs. Laughlin hated words like “nice” and “fun” and “good”. She would rail against words used so often that they meant nothing. “Nothing!” She’d cry out in class” This word means NOTHING!”
So you can imagine what happened when a student used a S.P.O.W word in a written assignment- yep, big red circle around that word, and S.P.O.W. in bold red ink above it. And because Mrs. Laughlin believed that teaching was what she was supposed to do, and learning from ones mistakes was an opportunity to teach; we had to make corrections on every red circle. The sentence had to be rewritten, with a better word. A word that meant something, and caught a reader’s interest.
I started my homework in September using an old dog-eared thesaurus that had been my dad’s when he was in college. By the end of the year I had broken the spine and innumerable pages were loose. I held it together with a rubber band. I still have it, although I don’t use it anymore. It sits on a shelf and reminds me of days gone by and I use the thesaurus on the Internet. But every time I open up that website and search for a word I think of Mrs. Laughlin, of her passion for words and how they work, how they illuminate ideas and feelings and thoughts and dreams.
When I write blogs, or scripts for the symphony, I open up that thesaurus and channel Mrs. Laughlin. I try and never use a big fat yummy word just for the sake of using it. The words have to flow, something that Mrs. Laughlin would understand out here in the real world. In the blogosphere I can say “big fat yummy word, because it flows and has a certain ring of truth that we all understand. But in Mrs. Laughlin’s classroom I would have to say – get ready for it-
brawny, colossal, luscious term…
or maybe copious ponderous ambrosial utterance…
or perhaps prodigious gargantuan succulent idiom….
Mrs. Laughlin, I fan the pages of my thesaurus to you. And I thank you for encouraging me, and inspiring me, and most of all for teaching me that the pen is indeed mightier than the sword. I hope that every student has a teacher like you. When I tell stories in my classroom, or give instructions or just shoot the breeze with my little charges, I hope I inspire them to embrace our beautiful, completely insane language and use as many of the words as possible. They are so delectable. (The words are delectable, not the children…. although the children are pretty scrumptious, too!)
I had some fun pulling more picture and giving them captions riddled with words from my thesaurus. The next blog post will have six pictures. Translate them into simple English like the ones above, and you could win a lovely prize! (We’re thinking a yummy goodness delicious things to drink and nibble basket…)
-scribed by Miss Allison, who postulates that lexemes are scrumptious!