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One English Teacher to Another

Teachers just can’t help it, they teach…their students, a scout troop, the clerk in the grocery store, each other.

The story that follows was written by Allen Webb, Webb, Allen 2professor of English at Western Michigan University. Allen writes of his early teaching days and in remembrance of a colleague, Bob Hamm, who taught him along the way.

 

As a new teacher with a door between my classroom and Bob’s he was an important model and mentor to me. His students were always engaged, always discussing literature and ideas and things that mattered in their lives. He was almost always cheerful. He could tell when I was down or overwhelmed and he would put his hand on my shoulder or invite me out to talk after school.

A short story.

One busy day in December in my first or second year of teaching (that was 35 years ago!) I went to him between classes to say that, yikes, I had simply forgotten to make a plan for my next class period. What was I going to do?

Bob reached into his cabinet and gave me a copy of Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory.BobHamm “You could read this story to them,” he said.

Of course, I read to them, a class of “low track” sophomores in basic writing, that beautiful story, finding myself deeply enjoying it. And when I reached the moment where the Queenie, Buddy’s dog dies, I suddenly realized that, of course, his special friend was going to die, too. Tears flooded my eyes, I choked up, and was just about unable to finish the story, in front of those, I think, somewhat confused students who perhaps wondered what was wrong with their young teacher.

After school I thanked Bob for the story, and told him that I had broken into tears while reading it aloud. “Oh,” Bob said, “I would never read that story aloud. I’d be crying, too.”

I am not sure that I believe he never read that story to students. But I am sure that he knew how to make me feel better, how to discover human connection in literature, how to reach students, and how to uplift everyone around him.

A Christmas Memory ends like this:

And when that happens, I know it. A message saying so merely confirms a piece of news some secret vein had already received, severing me from an irreplaceable part of myself, letting it loose like a kite on a broken string. That is why, walking across a school campus on this particular December morning, I keep searching the sky. As if I expected to see, rather like hearts, a lost pair of kites hurrying towards heaven.

Allen