I encountered a great article the other day about the most important thing various people learned from their teachers.
What really struck me was how closely my own experiences mirrored those of the people who wrote in.
Randomness of inspiration
An amazing thing about classrooms: You never know what random sentence from a teacher will change a student’s life.
Close reading as a skill
The endorphin buzz of hitting the interpretive bull’s-eye, making her eyes light up with that you-got-it! glow of approval, struck sparks in my teenage mind. My year with her inspired a lifetime habit of overthinking everything, a gift that keeps on giving.
Same here. It was my junior year of high school and I took an honors-level course in American Literature.
Cross-disciplinary insights as unexplored gold mines of knowledge
Call me slow, but it was the first time that I’d been introduced to the incredibly fertile, idea-rich, and under-explored territory created by crossing disciplines.
I learned the same lesson sitting in a sociology class in college.
Natural aptitude is not enough
Later, when he read a draft of my college admissions essay, I was crushed when he said it was trite and needed work. Writing had always come easily to me, and I’d learned to get by with minimal effort. Mr. Willey taught me that having a natural aptitude for something means you have to work even harder at it — because otherwise what’s the point?
I pulled the same thing in a college English class.
The worth of unloved, overloaded words
I left that class with the understanding that words — their religious, historical or scientific baggage aside — are ultimately human inventions, created to articulate our experiences. In dismissing words too quickly, we run the risk of losing the language that affords us the ability to comprehend ourselves. I came to see why “Amazing Grace” is still a song worth singing through a secular life.
My personal favorite is “synergy.”
It occurred to me that you must always have precise sources for what you believe to be true — and be able to quote them at the right moment. The word of a trusted authority, even the greatest authority, is subject to scrutiny.
I don’t remember when or whether I learned this from a teacher, but it’s certainly one worth remembering in our fast-moving, tweet-from-the-hip culture.