My Miss Wright changed my life

Dooper's memories

Opinion: Columns

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John Stanger

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Miss Wright was my seventh- and eighth-grade English teacher, and the ideal of what a teacher should be. She was not only very knowledgeable, but she had the ability to make learning enjoyable. There was much laughter in her classroom.

Miss Wright achieved discipline because she was so well liked that no one wanted to offend her. She never lost her temper, never raised her voice, yet the class heard every word she said, and the patience she showed convinced the class of her interest in us.

One day Miss Wright was explaining to the class one of the more subtle points of grammar, and I didn't have the foggiest notion of what she was saying. Panic and frustration set in, but Miss Wright saw my plight and without missing a beat, she explained the lesson again. I got it this time.

She gave me my first positive taste of English, a subject in which — because of her teaching — I was able to do above-average work.

She had a great sense of humor, and though many of her off-the-cuff one-liners were lost on some of my classmates, I caught most of them because my grandfather was a one-line jokester, and I heard his comments every day.

Miss Wright had a lot of faith in me because even when I had problems with diagramming sentences, I finally understood the process with her extra help.

She was a very unassuming person who had a profound knowledge of all genres of literature and encouraged the class to read outside of the classroom. She had us report on our reading and emphasized that fine writing is to be found beyond plays and novels.

She had us read the Gettysburg Address as well as Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, requiring us to memorize the Gettysburg Address and recite it in front of the class.

When my classmates and I were nearing graduation, it was Miss Wright's job to ask us what foreign language we would like to take in in high school, and if she didn't think our respective choices were right for us, she would give us her recommendation.

I was in a quandary because when I asked my family members about a language choice, they were split between French and German.

Only my grandfather suggested that I take Latin.

When I met with Miss Wright, she told me to take Latin because then I would read great epic poems, adventures, and Roman history and be subject to a strong grammar regimen, I followed her advice for four years.

When I went back to Holmes to visit her during first semester finals at the high school, she asked me how I liked Latin. I told her I now had a Roman name [Justus], as did my classmates, and that I had played a role in a Roman play. She was pleased.

The dedication that Miss Wright displayed was not limited to making certain we acquired knowledge to cope with the world of academia; she was also concerned about our conduct toward other people in the classroom, our homes, the community and in society as a whole.

Miss Wright changed my life, and I will never forget her.

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Susan Montgomery from Chicago  

Posted: May 28th, 2020 12:37 PM

John, Thank you for sharing this beautiful reflection of your junior high teacher. If only teachers knew how many of us carry cherished memories of them long after we've left their classrooms. I grew up in Oak Park and attended Holmes elementary and OPRFHS. I still have fond recollections of my 1st/2nd grade teacher, Miss Ann Leavengood (Guthrie) going beyond the ordinary subjects and teaching us about the great classical composers and fine artists of the Impressionist and Early Modern periods, taking us on a school-wide "safari" when we learned about Africa, creating a class newspaper (I did the comic strip!) and when her fiancÚ, who loved sailing, brought in the large sail from his boat to essentially teach us the physics of sailing! Later, my high school experience was filled with more memorable teachers (characters, some of them!) such as Mr. Berkeley, Miss Spicuzza and Mr. Campbell (all English), Mr. Schuette (math) and Mrs. Hutchinson and Mr. Diedrich (history). Last fall, my Holmes class of '75 held a mini-reunion the night before our high school reunion. Two legendary, former Holmes social studies/English teachers, Tom Korinek and Dave Smith, joined us at Barkley's in Oak Park for a great evening. That night, we announced that our class had raised $5,000 to establish a fund in these two teachers' honor through the Oak Park Education Foundation to support a junior high "Spoken Word" project. They were mid-blown but it was our way of telling them we loved them!

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