Words Matter

Dave Eggers remembers what a teacher wrote on one of his papers:

He was kind to me, but I had no sense that he took particular notice of me. There were other, smarter kids in the class, and soon I fell back into my usual position — of thinking I was just a little over average in most things. But near the end of the semester, we read “Macbeth.” Believe me, this is not an easy play to connect to the lives of suburban high schoolers, but somehow he made the play seem electric, dangerous, relevant. After procrastinating till the night before it was due, I wrote a paper about the play — the first paper I typed on a typewriter — and turned it in the next day.

I got a good grade on it, and below the grade Mr. Criche wrote, “Sure hope you become a writer.” That was it. Just those six words, written in his signature handwriting — a bit shaky, but with a very steady baseline. It was the first time he or anyone had indicated in any way that writing was a career option for me. We’d never had any writers in our family line, and we didn’t know any writers personally, even distantly, so writing for a living didn’t seem something available to me. But then, just like that, it was as if he’d ripped off the ceiling and shown me the sky.

I am pleased for Dave Eggers that he had a teaxher who inspired him. I had a teacher who was nothing like Mr. Criche. I remember what he wrote too, word for word on my school report in the 7th Form.

After I had come top of the class in English he wrote:

“A splendid exam result achieved with little obvious effort”

Only I wasn’t top on the report, I was second despite slaying the next best in the class by 20%. He didn’t mean that comment as praise either. He meant it as an insult. This was a man who was the head of the PPTA in the school, a man who said to me he hated my father, hated my father’s politics and political party. He also told me that even though I got 95% in the English exam “with little obvious effort” he couldn’t countenance me being top of the class so he “scaled” my result so I came second. He scaled my result down 20% for the guy who got 76% would get the credit for being top of the class.

And so that day I got my exam result and report can be classed as the day I started my war against time serving union hacks, jealous and petulant of kids who are smarter than them. He taught me to hate teachers, unions and unionists in his class.

Words matter. Because of those words I set about making sure he could find no excuse to mark me down again. The next two terms I came top again. Both times over 95%. I was determined that once, just once at Auckland Grammar I would walk across the stage and shake John Grahams hand and I did it so I could pull the fingers at Graeme Marshall.

He will of course claim he insulted me and my father to drive me to better myself. The thing is I got the same marks doing SFA in his class or working my arse off, I wasn’t bettering myself, I was slaving to his tired old view of education and staying under the radar so that he had no valid excuse to mark me down again.

Words Matter. Because of Graeme Marshall’s words I loathe teachers and unions. Thank you Mr Marshall.