I was one of those kids who could read something once and not only remember what I read but where it was specifically on the page, as well as everything around it. A photographic memory is a beautiful thing (although I must admit that there are some things in my life I’d like to unsee). In a school system where test taking skills are the only measures of your success, I was a shoo-in. I coasted along on the wings of my fabulous gift until high school and then along came Ms. Laurie McBrinn. She seemed to think that each person should be pushed to the limits of their abilities. What a novel concept. I cried every night… absolutely certain that she harbored some secret vendetta and was hell-bent on ruining my life.
Everybody has one of those turning points. Mine was the fault of Ursula K. Le Guin and Ms. McBrinn. The latter, having assigned what I saw as fabulously short and straight forward works of literature to other students, cursed me with “The Left Hand of Darkness” by Ursula K. Le Guin. I may forget what I’m doing when I enter a room. I may forget my children’s names and call them everything from their siblings’ names to that of the dog, but I will never forget the name of that book or author.
When I asked Ms. McBrinn why I had to do a report on that book, she said something akin to “because you can.” I sobbed through it but survived. In fact, I even liked the book but I was not about to tell her that. I just wallowed in my self-pity, wondering what I had done to deserve such treatment. The truth was, I had done something. I had been a lazy student, not using my gift to its fullest potential.
I went to a private all-girls school where the teachers taught multiple subjects. It felt like I had Ms. McBrinn for practically every subject (really just English and Latin) but, in the midst of my teenaged angst, it felt like she was everywhere. She had us pray in Latin, conjugate way too many verbs for my taste, act out Julius Caesar (Et tu Brute?), analyze books (usually loved it), analyze music (totally sucked at it), and write until our fingers bled (not really, I just started reliving the teen drama here).
Back then, she was my worst nightmare but now, as I look back, I can see she was one of the best things to happen to me. I was lazy and needed a fire lit under me. Ms. McBrinn practically needed a blow torch to do so. Now that I’m old (as my kids remind me frequently), I can see that her goal wasn’t to crush the hopes and dreams of a teenage girl but to push me outside of my comfort zone and teach the hard work that would be required to see my dreams through to fruition.
Over the course of my high school career, Ms. McBrinn continued to provide me with the swift kick in the rear that I needed. And over time, one of the amazing things I found was that I actually liked learning. I had always loved reading but my love of learning really blossomed in high school under Ms. McBrinn’s tutelage. Don’t get me wrong, I had many fabulous teachers and appreciate them all. I just appreciate the fact that Ms. McBrinn didn’t let me coast through in high school never seeing the inevitable crash and burn later.
When I started to teach my own children, my goals were modeled after Ms. McBrinn’s teaching: challenge them to perform to their full potential, gently nudge them outside their comfort zone, and instill a love of learning because memorizing facts will only get you so far. So, here’s to all of Ms. McBrinn’s in the world. Thanks for all that you do! We, your students, may not appreciate you in the moment but we will eventually realize that you are worth your weight in gold!
P.S. Ms. McBrinn, if you’re reading this, please message me the list of typos and my grade privately. I’m already working on my excuses.