I feel like it will surprise you – though it shouldn’t – just how many of our lives you’ve touched, influenced, impacted over the years.
I remember before entering your class that your reputation for strictness and propriety had preceded you. What hadn’t (a pity, but it certainly made us sit up straight and cross our legs at our ankles from Day 1 and say ‘yes’ not ‘ja’) was your enormous spark. I can still recall the mischievous look you’d get when you’d say something to challenge us. To make us think, wake up, imagine, throw us off kilter. I remember how passionately you described how wonderful it would be to be a butcher – a career you’d have in another life if you weren’t a teacher – and how your eyes glittered as you delved into the feeling of the meat beneath your hands. I’m not quite sure we knew what to make of you that day. But it was truly great.
Entering your class was a chance to express ourselves – to be heard and to be valued – in an atmosphere that never one hundred percent felt like it was acceptable to do so. And I loved that it came from someone who seemed, at the outset, to be a strict adherent to the rules. But I realise that I learned from you that the rules provide the structure within which we can go wild – with a measure of safety as we grow and figure out who we are.
You instilled in me a lifelong passion for Blake. I still love revisiting Strictly Ballroom. Poetry, analysis, critical thinking, studying, good grammar. I remember you read a poem I’d written (something about donkeys, that I was submitting for the school magazine) and it thrilled me that you at first thought it was something you’d read before (I then felt sad that it was something that sounded hackneyed, but I remember the thrill more). I remember staring at the Brad Pitt posters and more – as? – important the Anatole France quote “To imagine is everything” and feeling like it was possible to write and think and challenge. To be more than a uniform and expectations.
You gave us power – power beyond ourselves – at a time in our lives that had so little. And it has shaped me forever. It made me realise I could study English and Film, and that to teach and write really were viable options. I carried those seeds of confidence with me through a Creative Writing Honours degree, a Masters in English, and now as the owner of my own communications business and as a teacher myself.
Thank you for the gift of encouragement, for your humour and grace, for the reminder that “to imagine is everything.” And that Brad Pitt really was a babe.