And Gladly Teche: A Mentor’s Guidance

Sownynge in moral vertu was his speche,

And gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche.

The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer, 1387-1400AD

Teaching has been my career and remains my passion along with writing, for over 47 years.  In my youth I was fortunate to have several excellent role models for teaching that led me to choose to become an educator.  Certainly Education, with its personal subtheme of Mentors, has been a primary Life Theme for me as it is for many. So allow me to share a couple of MyStory tales in relation to the educator theme.

Professor G was one of my English profs in Buffalo at my undergraduate college. He was the consummate Teacher, as he had begun teaching at 18 in a one-room schoolhouse before teaching certificates were required, and he had taught some fifty years to when I took his course in Chaucer as an English Literature major. In fact, the semester I took his class was the last one before he would be required by law to retire. 

Prof G related the tale of how once while he was undergoing an operation, I think having to do with removing a section of his intestines, the anesthetic wore off and he awoke. Rather than asking for more anesthetic, he began reciting the entire Prologue to Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, and he continued this recitation through the remainder of his surgery!

So, when Professor G passed away shortly after the end of his final semester teaching, his colleagues made sure that etched into his tombstone was the Middle English line shown above (and below), from the Clerk’s tale in the Canterbury Tales Prologue. I have always remembered this line and hope to be living up to its inspiration with my own lifelong teaching career.

And gladly wolde (s)he lerne and gladly teche.

Then also Mr. S., still a much respected resident here in the high-school hometown to which I have recently returned, was a primary mentor as my tenth-grade English teacher and as the talented Director of our high-school theater program.  I gained excellent experience as Student Director and then as Stage Manager under his guidance in my final two years of high-school. In my eleventh grade we put on a play (in 1971) called Summertree, about a young soldier dying under a tree in Viet Nam while his brief life passed before his eyes, in three acts. For this I was Student Director.   Our cast and crew became such a closely bonded unit, so dedicated collectively to communicating the anti-war sentiment to our audience, that on the final performance, after Act II opened on the stage, I was so overwhelmed with emotion that I cried openly backstage, shaking uncontrollably in tears, for the entirety of the rest of the play.

In my tenth grade (1970) class, Mr. S. introduced our class to Harlem Renaissance authors for at least a full half of the semester.  This was somewhat radical in our hometown that had very little ethnic or racial diversity at the time. We read Black Voices, an excellent anthology of poetry and fiction, along with Richard Wright’s Native Son; and we each selected a favorite Black author about which to write a term paper. (I chose the ‘mulatto’/mixed race author Jean Toomer, who preferred his Black identity because of its closer sense of community.)  This exposure to the African American experience in the 1970’s, just two years after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., was life changing for me as it increased my awareness of the benefits as well as the challenges of diversity.

images are from pixabay.com

One day in my senior year as I was contemplating my soon to come college adventure, Mr. S saw me in the high-school hallway and walked with me and asked about what my college major would be.  I told him I wanted to be an English teacher, like him. He coached me wisely.  He advised me that, if I could see myself being satisfied in my life when after some thirty years I might overhear a former student repeating some fragment of insight s/he might have gleaned from some material I had exposed them to in class, whether or not they even remembered where that insight or line had come from, then I should indeed become a Teacher. Otherwise, if I were seeking a more wealth or ego-boosting sort of career, then perhaps I should choose otherwise in going forward with my college ambitions.

I did begin college as a secondary education major then shifted to English Comparative Literature for my BA, then I earned my MA in Linguistics and my Ph.D. was in cultural and linguistic anthropology, after which I served as a university professor for 25 years and still continue post-retirement teaching part-time online.   Mr’ S’s wise words during that hallway conversation confirmed my natural passion for a teaching career. I have often remembered his wisdom and have repeated it to several of my own mentees and students through the years.

*******

And you, dear reader?  What was the inspiration for your career?  I invite you to write in your MyStory Journal your own memorable tales about your Education or mentorship theme.  MyStory tales are memoirs which you find yourself often thinking about and sharing with others, embellishing their narrative force through the years. These stories embody the lessons of your lifetime.  Collectively they encapsulate the mythic narrative legacy of your own heroic adventure!

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