Dear Miss Diciuccio,
I hope you don’t mind that I’m still using your maiden name. I don’t know who I’m talking to, otherwise.
You were my high school English teacher and I’ve long long long meant to tell you that you changed my life, forever and for the better.
One of our ongoing assignments was to keep a journal. We turned them in, you read them, and for me it was all awkward. The writing, the sharing. However, it soon became clear that you meant it when you said we could write anything. That freedom was a novelty. I could write Whatever, without judgment or consequences.
I was surprised when I saw your margin note in my journal. This is good. I’d been writing Whatever – venting about something. I re-read the paragraph. I didn’t think it was good, but that note taught me so much: Writing could get me praise. Writing could connect me with someone else.
People had always told me I was a writer, but this was the moment when I felt it. It’s taken me decades to feel it again. In between, I’ve done a lot of writing, published my writing, and taken long writing hiatuses. I’ve grappled with big issues, including my needs for praise and connection. Through it all, I kept seeing your margin note.
I’ve also wanted to thank your friend and compadre, Estelle Tucker, who left us way too soon. She transmitted so much confidence and respect. In her class we debated current events and discussed Dylan records. She was always cool and she helped me see that art must change to stay alive. She had us read Hamlet then attend a big city performance of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead. (Which was new, back then. She would have taken us to Improvised Shakespeare Company if they’d been around.) My hands-down favorite high school moment was the day I was in a deep funk and she ignored the rules to let me skip her English class and hang out in the library. Maybe it’s time to re-read her favorite novel, Madame Bovary. I was too young to appreciate it, back in the day.
Ours was a nondescript suburban school named for an administrative functionary yet Marion A. Peterson High School had many exceptional teachers. A couple more shout-outs to:
Mr. Kim. You divided our journalism class into four groups and had us report on the Vietnam War based strictly on the writing in a single news magazine. Our four reports sounded like four different wars. This was a profound lesson in slant and bias that forever changed how I hear the news, any news.
Mr. Parsons. I was a hippie and you were, well, I thought you were a fascist but maybe you were mildly right wing. When you teased me about politics you showed me that people of opposing views could get along. And that chemistry quiz that I failed. I never forgot your lesson about staying open to what we don’t know. The quiz required us to balance a chemical equation. But – it didn’t balance. I somehow forced it to fit what I had learned. Fail. Only one guy in the class got the right answer, which involved saying “the result includes a new and unknown particle with the following properties…”
Thank you all for shaping my thinking and choices. I’ve tried teaching and I found it difficult, tedious, exhausting. I don’t know how you did it, frankly, but I’m grateful you did.