The other day in my Chernin class, we were asked to talk about our favorite teachers. At the time, I mostly named professors I’ve had at Cal because the people in my group are all looking for tips on who they should take (and not take) in the semesters to come. I’ve had spectacular teachers at Berkeley, without a doubt. I’ve sat in lectures with people who blew me away with what they have studied and written and created. Profs. Breitweiser, Sorenson, Thornbury, Murphy, Loewinsohn, Goble, Knapp, and Nelson have all been incredible. Insightful people, with engaging lecture and approachable ways in one-on-one interaction.
But I wanted to tell stories about teachers I had in the long-long-ago of high school, and the community college that helped me structure a useful brain and a viable academic record after dropping out. It’s hard to tell someone who wasn’t there how much it was all worth. But they were the lights along the way.
I went to high school in a soulless little town that I couldn’t wait to escape. I was the standard issue lost girl: no parents, no home, gaping attendance record, antagonistic to even the best of teachers. These were skilled and kind people for whom I would not perform. I let a few get to know me, but I was not in a good place. I remember Dick Powell, Suzanne Mastroianni, and Rich Herold as fantastic allies and encouraging influences even as I spiraled out of control. I remember trading barbs with Prof. Brigham who treated me like an equal even while I flunked chemistry. Twice. They deserved better students than I could be and I knew it. Still, every shipwreck offers salvage. I got some good things there, and I’m grateful.
In community college, I had to re-learn how to go to school. I had spent five years working and figuring out how to be an adult. I had spent those same five years forgetting what being smart actually means; how it’s a thing that you do and not a thing that you are. Coming back is hard. I had help. I had Dr. Barth lecturing on the history of science and showing me Saturn through a telescope. Even I couldn’t be jaded to that. I had Larry Barkley pounding my essays under a logic that hits like a ball peen hammer until I knew how to do it right the first time. I had Christina Yamanaka expanding my horizons and making me read material I’d never even heard of before- and I try to anticipate in every class so that I always have something to say.
I had Theresa Hert explain to me for the first and only time in my life why learning algebra actually makes sense. She followed that up with another first: SHE TAUGHT ME ALGEBRA. Math was the thing that kept me up at night. Math was the reason I drank during finals and pulled my hair out during admissions. Hert’s Math 096 was one of the most deeply satisfying classes I have ever celebrated a B in. She made it matter, and then she made it make sense. Whatever MSJC is paying her, it’s not enough.
I have thank you letters to write; this is only an outline. I couldn’t answer the question to my own satisfaction in Chernin. The list of names and reasons is too long, and most of it took place too long ago and far away to be of any great utility to my classmates. For me, however, it’s then and now and always. It’s with me every step of the way. It’s a set of well-worn tools I was given when I began this that I still use every day.
I am so grateful to have been taught. Thank you all.