Mr. White, 10th grade English.

My high school in Houston was a magnet school for the humanities.  I especially loved my English classes – I don’t think this is a real shocker that a blogger enjoyed courses that allowed for reading and writing.  The thing is, the only “F” I’ve ever gotten was in English in 6th grade.  It was the sentence structure and grammar kind of class – not the literature and expressing yourself ones in which I blossomed emotionally as a person, so I forgive myself that failing grade.  Also, I failed because I missed so many days because I was “sick” aka bullied and I hated being there.

Fast forward 4 years to 1996 and I was going to a new school, with actual friends, and I had already taken to performance poetry.  I had not quite developed my reading muscle then, so 30 pages a night seemed torturous.  (Now I can devour a 1,000 page book in a night if it’s book-coma-worthy and I’m left unattended, which is never now that I have 2 kids.)  Mr. White constructed the syllabus from banned books, which is perfect reverse psychology for an angsty teen.  “Oh, you don’t want me to read these books, The Man?  Well, I’m not only going to read them, but I’m going to write essays on why they’re important!  So take that.”

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Angsty Jells and friends in 10th grade.

My favorite was Streetcar Named Desire.  Mr. White was energetic, committed, and funny in a way that made me feel like I was in on something.  He wanted the class to read the play aloud to get the feel of it and prevent just reading it the night before an exam or the essay was due.  It meant something to him and he wanted it to be slowly enjoyed by us.  So for several weeks, we would have a read-along, with the same students playing their part the whole book.

I, of course, wanted to be Blanch DuBois.  It was the major role and I think I was the only drama gal in the class/willing to take on a southern (more southern?) accent for the entirety of the reading.  It was such a smart move by Mr. White to give the class roles because everyone actually cared, which is difficult to garner in a high school class.  Or at least, I sure did.  I never skipped because I had Blanche to attend to.

Then came the movie days – for every book we read, if there was a movie made of it, and there usually was since they were classics, Mr. White would screen it and give play-by-plays why and how dramatic shots were achieved.  He would pause the moving and talk about a character shrouded in half-light/half dark being troubled and how the director represented some aspect of the book that we had previously spent a long time discussing.  I felt like he gave me a key to unlock watching black and white movies that always seemed so boring before.

But it wasn’t just the movie versions of books he showed.  He also screened The Simpsons’ version as well.  He gave it as much credibility as any of the others, instead of just phoning it in and catching up on grading at his desk while we had a free day.  I felt like every moment in that class was important, including my naive and rudimentary understandings of complicated and multi-layered allegories like Animal Farm and 1984.  I wasn’t scared to raise my hand and offer my take, wrong or not.  Mr. White was great at encouraging his students to at least try, which kept us present in class.

I’m not the only one who developed a deep respect for Mr. White, still held these 13 years later.  I can only remember a handful of teachers names from high school, and he was one of them.  To my high school friends reading this, can you back me up?  What was your favorite book from the class?

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Link up with Emily from The Waiting and Ashley from Zebra Garden’s Blog Hop HERE.  The theme this week was anything about teachers back in the day.  Do read the other entries and say what up in the comments.

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Blog Hop Jells.

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6 thoughts on “Mr. White, 10th grade English.

  1. Teachers who made every moment seem important have a true talent. And I love that whole banned books concept. I mean, what teen doesn’t want to read a book they aren’t supposed to read. “Literature of Controversy” was one of the most popular electives at my school for that reason. Just the thought that we might be reading profanity, sex and violence was enough to make us sign up in droves.

  2. My favorite novel would be A Streetcar Named Desire, To Kill a Mockingbird, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Love Mr. White.

  3. What was the deal with 10th grade English? I freaking *loved* my sophomore English teacher too. I was pretty sure I was going to marry him, which was all the more hilarious because he was gay ;D

    • It’s the books slated for that grade level… they’re the sort that stick with you forever, and you can’t help but love the person who brought you to them. :)

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