Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Inspired by this post by Danielle Mari on Mission Improvisational, I’m going to say a few words about my favorite teacher: Mrs. Drizin. In high school I usually kept my mouth shut regarding my admiration for her. From what I heard other students saying, I stood alone. Some of them even accused her of being awful. But I loved her. Do you want to know why? Because she never taught me a thing. Rather she shared her knowledge, so that we could discover how to learn.

I remember complaints from kids about how she’d spend time talking about her own children’s endeavors instead of a lesson plan. Somehow they failed to see that the plan had been to relate what she told us to the material we studied. For instance, she didn’t just tell us, perhaps, about the struggle of her daughter to be accepted in the medical community - no, she’d been drawing a parallel to Nora of a Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, who wanted more out of life. I always understood her analogies.

Mrs. Drizin had a habit of asking us to write essays. The topics? She'd leave that up to the student. Not always, of course. But often enough that other kids griped. They bitched that they had to write one in the first place, then about having no focus or topic…as if Mrs. Drizin had been too lazy to think up one. On the contrary, the students were too unfocused and unimaginative to be able to proceed. When Mrs. Drizin reviewed them, she doled out pointers about writing - from composition to grammar to conceptual organization. Plus, she made comments regarding our selected topics, the friendly kind, such as now appear on blogs. It let you know she’d truly consumed what you wrote, not just read it.

She also instigated a need for connections. The ability to see associations between works. From the minutia to the major. She stressed the importance of not just reading information, but applying it to the world at large - both in our lives and what we’d already experienced academically (and not just in her classroom). I soon found it easier to grasp concepts when they all fit together like a puzzle that slowly took shape. (This of course also relates to her talking about her personal life…it fit, if you cared to notice how.)

She wanted to be active in your personal affairs. No, not the way that sounds. For instance, she discovered that I had begun writing a novel based on a comic strip/book project from art class. Immediately she pounced on it, ready to peruse my effort. Later she came to me and asked me if I would stay after school and come speak with her. (For the record, I’d been known to hang around a bit with teachers after classes. Always when welcome, of course…I knew the difference.) When I met with her, she praised my work. She’d also viewed the comic panels and marveled at how I explored and expanded the possibilities from drawing to prose. She couldn’t wait for more. And no, I do not hold her in esteem simply because she fed my ego. She had just as much constructive criticism as she did nice words.

With that particular project, she brought to light a lesson that has stuck with me ever since. Actually, the lesson is two-fold. One of the details of my story that she pointed out had been the use of red & black in reference to the main character. “Devil colors!” she smiled, knowing that I would make the connection as well. [I’m not about to explain the storyline to you…just know that there’d been another devil-like reference in relation to him.] Here’s the thing - she called attention to the red & black as a nod to me, as in “Good use!” But the truth is I hadn’t even intended the allusion! I let her know…and then the lesson came about. Just because something is not necessarily conceived of and/or planned by an author does not mean that the allusion is not valid or there. It seems obvious, perhaps. But when it’s drawn from your own work and it surprises you, it hits home just a bit more. The two-fold aspect is the realization that the sub-conscious mind does indeed work. Artists tap into some sort of collective unconscious. Something beyond our own scope that influences us. How powerful it had been to suddenly be aware of that fact!

She wound up writing a letter of recommendation for college - which she let me read. She spoke about this very subject - how she discovered that I’d taken on a writing project of my own volition, my creativity and ability to incorporate classroom teachings. Something like that. I don’t mean that to be a tooting horn.

So here’s to Leona Drizin. The woman who gave me friendship, guidance, stories, encouragement, information and instilled the capacity to know what it is to learn.

I’ll leave you with a something I remember her saying. I remember it because of its delightful absurdity. “I’ve brought something wonderful for you all to read! Unfortunately it’s on yellow paper, but that doesn’t mean it isn't worthwhile.”


C.J. Redwine said...

I love the quote you left us with! What a fantastic teacher.

Danielle Mari said...

I know plenty of teachers who in some way want to be the students' favorite... Sounds like Ms. D. made the more difficult choice to sacrifice being universally popular in order to support critical thinking, creativity, and (I'm guessing) self-discipline. Good for her! That you understood and appreciated her substance over style attitude just underscores what a great person you are, too, Petey. Thanks for sharing!

Barbra said...

Peter...today I missed my mother and I just sat here and googled her name. This blog post came up. Thank you so much for enjoying her and caring about her, and telling me how she talked about her children in class. She would be so proud that you have kept up your blog! Barbra tobarbra@gmail.com