A High School Teacher Remembers, Former Student Blushes

Today’s blog is a guest post from a favorite English teacher I had as a freshman in high school in the fall of 1983.  And, as a disclaimer, I had NO IDEA what she was going to write about. Sheesh!  Blushing over here.

By Saralyn Richard

One of the most gratifying rewards of being an English teacher is living to see one’s students apply the concepts taught in their own lives, reading, writing and thinking independently, and sharing those skills with others.  I am fortunate to have several former students who have chosen “the writing life,” and it is a thrill to follow their careers, remembering the seeds of talent noted in their compositions long ago.

You’ve probably guessed by now that Sheila Quirke, aka Mary Tyler Mom, is one of those promising students.  I remember Sheila’s handwriting, her curious nature, the way she developed her essays to make them stand out.  I remember her ebullient spirit and her friendly nature.  People were drawn to her bright smile and quick wit, even in high school.

I remember imagining a future for her, filled with achievements and successes.  Perhaps she would become a lawyer, advocating for her clients; perhaps the CEO of a company, making important decisions that would affect many.  Perhaps she would be a government official, the kind who makes a difference in the lives of her constituents; or maybe an artist or literary figure, the kind who leaves an indelible imprint on society.

Saralyn Richard, high school English teacher extraordinaire
Saralyn Richard, high school English teacher extraordinaire

I lost track of Sheila for a couple of decades, and when I found her again, it was through the miracle of computers and social media and blogs.  When I read about Sheila’s life, the experiences she has had, the things she stands up for, it made me realize that she has become all of those things.  Sheila has used her many gifts to communicate.  Her writing has touched thousands of hearts and minds and souls.  She has the capacity to express the most abstract thoughts and feelings in such a uniquely human way.  She is the wisdom of Athena crossed with the girl next door.

I would never have wished on Sheila the heartache that she has endured, but, oh, how she has embraced both heartaches and joys with introspection, grace, and a sense of purpose—it is something exquisite to behold.  Thank you, Sheila, for sharing so much of yourself with all of us.  The world is a better place because you are in it.

**********

As my Da always said, “No good deed goes unpunished.”  In that spirit, I thought it might be nice to return the favor of some kind words to Ms. Richard (and, yes, I still have a hard time calling my teachers by anything other than their proper name — even when we are Facebook friends.)

I solicited just a couple, few memories of some of my classmates about Ms. Richard and, as previously mentioned, no good deed goes unpunished, so also included a high school year book photo of them, too! HA HA HA!

Aaahhhhh, the 80s.  Grateful thanks to all these fine folks from TR who shared memories with me to make this happen for Ms. Richard.
Aaahhhhh, the 80s. Grateful thanks to all these fine folks from TR who shared their memories with me.

Mr. Konkol:  “Personally, I’m still miffed at Ms. Richard. She was a good teacher and a great colleague and then she left us! Blast and damn! We missed her then and will never know how TR would have benefitted had she stayed with us. Not that I hold a grudge, for decades.”

Laura:  “Ms. Richard was a wonderful teacher — caring and kind. I remember reading the Odyssey in her class and loving it. But, the most memorable moment was when she brought in Bill Zehme as a guest speaker. He had written an article about David Letterman that she had us read before he spoke to our class. He was her former student and she wanted him to tell us about what it was like to be a professional writer and hopefully inspire us to see the opportunities that were available to those of us who loved English. I look back on that experience now and am so impressed that she thought so much of us, a bunch of 9th graders!

Kris:  “I never had Mrs. Richard as a teacher, but often saw her in passing in high school. 27 years later a friend posts about a book called Naughty Nana and as a big fan of books for children, I immediately purchased it for my newborn great niece. About a year later Mrs. Richards reached out to me to see if I attended Thornridge because she had seen that we had mutual FB friends. I told her that I did and promptly broke out my TR yearbook. So funny how Facebook brings people together in the strangest ways. By the way Naughty Nana is one of our favorite books and I feel so proud of Mrs. Richards success!”

Sheila:  “I grew up feeling like I never really fit in with the other kids.  Ms. Richard saw something in me at a young age and a vulnerable time in my life — I had just transitioned from a small Catholic school to what seemed like a HUGE high school and felt utterly lost.  My grades were suffering for the first time, but not in English. Ms. Richard tapped in me the idea of possibility and opportunity and a whole wide world being open to me through words.  I remain grateful to her for that.”

Eleanor:  “Mrs. Richard was top on things in her class. You had to be prepared or else she would call you out on it! But she had a love of reading and of words and she translated her passion for that into something that was digestible for teens.”

Vennie:  “I don’t recall all the details of the assignment, but it involved writing a piece related to the short story “The Ransom of Red Chief” by O. Henry and presenting it in front of the class. I decided to compose a humorous poem. The student who presented before me did an excellent job, so when I stood up and came forward, I made an offhand comment about how my presentation wouldn’t be as good as the last. I then read my poem, which was received with lots of genuine laughter and a rousing round of applause at the end. Needless to say, I was feeling pretty good about myself as I sat down.

When Ms. Richard returned my graded poem to me a few days later, I was more than a little disappointed to find that she had docked five points from an otherwise perfect score solely because of my self-deprecating opening remark! It took a while, but I eventually came to realize and appreciate the important life lessons she had taught me:

1. Have faith in your abilities, and don’t sell yourself short.
2. Project confidence even if you don’t feel it.
3. Nobody likes a whiner.

The fact that this remains one of the few truly vivid memories I have of my high school years speaks volumes about the impact it had on me, and I can tell you those lessons have served me well over the years. Thank you, Ms. Richard!”

**********

Saralyn Richard is an author and still happily inspiring her students.

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