Thank a Teacher Day

Today is National Thank a Teacher Day. A great teacher makes all the difference. I’m going to call out two who made a difference for me.

In 2nd grade, I had a crush on Miss Foote. Periwinkle eyes and long brown hair, I will be honest and say she probably reminded me of Pam Dawber on Mork & Mindy, a show I was obsessed with at the time. I was (and still am) a rather chaotic whirlwind who wants to make the world better through discovery, laughter and silliness. While many of my teachers saw this as challenging their authority, Ms. Betsy Foote found ways to channel my energy into productive endeavors. One of which was my first book.

Komodo & Dragon’s Adventure was an action revenge thriller I wrote in the 2nd grade, after Ms. Foote gave us manila paper to draw the stories on, then sew & bound them into little hardcover picture books. In the story, two Komodo Dragons–cleverly named “Komodo” and “Dragon”–and their iguana, owl and other critter pals learn there is a Poacher on Komodo Island.

So they kill him! I haven’t changed much, have I? They rig an elaborate booby trap to fling him from his Jeep into quicksand. He lands in it headfirst. The reader can only be left with the conclusion that he drowned and his body was never recovered by authorities.

I blame HBO.

Ms. Foote also rolled her eyes at my little idiosyncrasies and daydreams, like when I decided that my new name was BJ, and I would sign all my papers that way. That was inspired by the TV show “BJ and the Bear,” about Sheriff Lobo chasing an outlaw trucker and his pet chimp, and it is immortalized here in Pathetic Geek Stories:

bjbear

School was a bit of a wasteland until college. Teachers such as Mr. Annett, Mr. O’Dell, Mr. Chapman, and Ms. Stolfi were memorable and taught enjoyable classes. But i was off in a world of my own until college, when I took David Hoddeson’s American literature courses. Mr. Hoddeson edited my first short story collection, Avondale, set in a small Italian neighborhood in Nutley, the town I grew up in. He was patient, encouraging, and a gifted editor. A story I wrote for that collection appeared in [PANK] Magazine many years later: “We’re All Guys Here.
The story was going to be published in Pulphouse in 1996, but the magazine folded. Finding venues was a lot more difficult back then. I sent stories off to various journals and never heard back. Eventually I got a story published in Blue Murder, but I didn’t stick with it, and my idea for a novel about a heroin junkie hired to find a runaway girl who fled to New Orleans, never went anywhere.

My wife gave me the kick in the pants that got me writing again, but I never would have put my crazy daydreams to paper at all if it wasn’t for Ms. Foote and Professor Hoddeson.

Who were your favorite teachers? How did they inspire you?