Sharon Schulze

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Location: New England, United States

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Thank You, Mrs. Dannis!

I very well might be in the minority, but I loved school! From kindergarten straight through to grad school, no matter the teacher or subject, there was always something to interest me every day. I’m fortunate to have had a number of excellent teachers who made learning fun and interesting, and who (for the most part) hadn’t become jaded or tired of being in the classroom.

Recently I was talking to someone about my school years, and one teacher in particular came to mind–Mrs. Dannis, a high school teacher who I had for three years of Spanish and one year of English. When asked why she stood out, I became a bit emotional, which surprised my companion almost as much as it surprised me. I couldn’t explain my reaction, but as I drove home later the reason became clear to me.

Mrs. Dannis was different from most of the other teachers in our small New Hampshire high school. She spoke several languages, had gone to college for a time in Mexico . . . her world, and her view of the world beyond our little town, was broad and varied. She didn’t like our Spanish textbook, so on the first day of Spanish 1 she told us we were going to write our own–and that we couldn’t speak English in class unless it was to ask for an English word in Spanish. By Spanish 3 we were skilled enough to read novels in Spanish; after reading, enjoying and discussing Juan Salvador Gaviota in Spanish, I’ve never bothered to check it out in English (that’s Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, by the way). In English class we studied Utopian novels, Greek philosophers and did a ton of creative writing (her idea of creative was far more creative than any I’ve encountered before or since!). She encouraged us to push ourselves, to not settle for doing a good job when she knew we were capable of more. She didn’t accept that a student who was really good at math and science couldn’t be good with words as well. She’s the person who first told me about Worcester Polytechnic Institute, because she thought the school with its free-form “Plan” would be a good fit for me–and it was.

Mrs. Dannis showed me a world outside the cloistered one I knew, and helped me believe there was a place for me in it. Although I didn’t realize it at the time (how could I ever have imagined then that I’d be an author someday? I was going to be an engineer) she also taught me a lot about being a writer, about giving my imagination free rein, then figuring out how to translate that into a story (or a book). She had a huge influence on me and the person I became, and I’m ashamed to admit I hadn’t thought about her in far too long.

Thank you, Mrs. Dannis!

I’m willing to bet each of us has a Mrs. Dannis in our pasts, a teacher or person (or several of them) who had an important influence us. Do you? Who was your Mrs. Dannis, and how did she/he/they affect you?