World Teachers Day 2012: A Letter to Mr G Jell
To celebrate World Teachers Day 2012, I wanted to pay tribute to one of my favourite teachers…
Dear Mr Jell,
I have wanted to write this letter for many years – almost 20 years in fact!
It only feels like yesterday that I sat in your 1993 Year 12 English class in the Red Brick Building (A2 if my memory serves me correctly?) . There are so many moments of my life that I can look back on those classes and recall something that you said. You had such an incredible skill of connecting with a bunch of rowdy teenagers.
You rarely sat behind a desk, in fact you rarely sat down at all. I can remember you standing in front of us, with just a book in one hand, leaning casually on a table, and reading aloud a passage from the book. You had such a command of the English language. They weren’t just words to you – they were meaning, and emotion, and power and passion.
You recited poetry which transported me to a different place… and time. When we studied Shakespeare you stripped back the layers so that not only could I understand what was written, but I could feel it. Romeo and Juliet still brings me to tears. Every word, every single word you made us take in, and consider, and appreciate. Twelve Angry Men, To Kill a Mockingbird, Brave New World, Macbeth – you brought them all to life right in front of our very eyes. I think back on our English lessons and I can honestly not recall a single assessment. Obviously we had exams and assignments, but they have since paled into significance compared to what I LEARNED.
I loved that you saw straight through me, and yet you never once called me on it. I guess I might have been considered one of the “cool” kids (whatever the heck that means), and I probably wasn’t the model student who sat quietly and did as I was told. I know I was challenging, and yet you challenged me right back. You knew that underneath the bravado was someone who loved school, and loved learning. I thrived on your challenges, and yet you gave me so much space to learn in my own way – to do things in ways that were meaningful to me.
When you spoke, it was with such careful intention. You were very gentle, and rarely raised your voice (oh but when you roared, didn’t we pull our socks up quick-smart!). I was so inspired by you that I travelled to England just so I could see for myself some of the villages and locations and stories that you would often speak about with such affection and enthusiasm – Battle of Agincourt, Stratford-upon-Avon to name just a couple. I thought of you often on that trip and wished I had listened just a LITTLE more carefully as you had told us about these beautiful places.
As we neared the end of Year 12, I can clearly remember the lesson in which you dismissed the boys early. We had no idea what you had planned. That day you sat in front of a group of 17 year old girls and talked to us about the end of year and Schoolies celebrations. I never ever forgot what you said. You stressed to us how important it was to stay together, to never abandon our friends, and if we ever found ourselves in a situation in which we felt threatened, we should kick off our heels, hitch up our skirt, and run like the wind. I am so grateful for that advice – and I was truly touched that you obviously thought that much of us, that you wanted us to be safe. It was the only time that anyone had ever talked to me about personal safety, and it was the first time I ever thought “OMG – this growing up thing is a little scary!”
I had a yearbook that I asked all my friends to write in at the end of the year. I asked very few teachers to write in it, so I didn’t know whether you would want to contribute anything to it. But you did – of course you did. I can’t imagine you would have even considered saying No. When you handed it back to me, you smiled. Just a simple smile, no words. I opened my book and inside you had written:
O Brave new world that has such people in it… and you have been one of the best.
It’s only recently, as I have seen children grow before my very eyes – children that I have held in my arms as babes who are now young men and women, and making their own way in the world – that I have begun to understand what you were meant when you chose those words. As I think about these children that I watched mature into adults, I wonder if they are truly prepared for the adult word that they are entering. There comes a point in a young person’s life when you have to simply step back, and watch them go, trusting that you have given them enough… enough knowledge, enough support, enough wisdom.
I wish I could tell you, Mr Jell, that you gave me enough. You gave me one of the greatest gifts that I possess today – an incredible love of the English language, a voracious appetite for books and literature and an appreciation of the beauty that can lay hidden in a carefully constructed sonnet. I know I am just one of many hundreds of students who have passed through your classroom doors, but I will always be grateful for those gifts that will last me a lifetime. I am a better person for having had you as my teacher. Thank-you.
Did you have a teacher who had a profound effect on your life? Please link-up and share your Letters of Appreciation below as we acknowledge and give thanks to educators on World Teachers Day, 2012