Jessica Buttram has the best last name in the whole world. It totally catches the eye, does it not? And if her name catches your attention, jut wait. Her words draw you into her web ever further. And then you are trapped. (No, not in her butt. In her web. Can’t you guys follow a metaphor. Geez.)
Jessica is the fun-loving wife and mother to Bug and Bean as well as a kind, supportive cyber-friend who can pack a lot of snark into a few words and get away with it. Why? Because she is that cute.
Back in May, I asked a bunch of writers to help me as I prepare for the fall semester when I will not only be teaching, but I will also be running around
making many poor and expensive decisions planning my son’s bar-mitzvah. I asked if they would write a memory about a most favorite teacher or uber-unfavorite teacher and the lesson they learned from this wonderful person/douche-bag.
Jess jumped on it right away and delivered me her piece way before the deadline. And as a reward, I declared she could be line leader.
• • •
He came to teach at my high school my junior year.
The summer before school started, we received a letter in the mail from him with a list of reading material, as well as our first writing assignment, to be turned in on the first day.
I had attended an academically advanced school since sixth grade, and, though we had summer reading lists, not once did I have to write a paper when I should have been working on my tan lines.
Dr. Browning, one of the few high school teachers in our entire city to hold a doctorate, had us shaking in our boots, and we didn’t even know what he looked like.
I turned in that first writing assignment, handwritten on loose leaf, titled “Randy Bragg vs. Me,” the assignment being a comparative analysis of any literary character and how he related to oneself. It should have been easy, right? I mean, half of the subject I had known my entire life. I picked Randy Bragg, of Alas, Babylon, because we had read it the previous year, because it was still relatively fresh in my mind, because I had only skimmed the other reading material assigned, because I had spent much of my summer at the beach, because I had a killer tan.
My paper came back more red than not, starting with its pitiful title. What was that number written on the top? Was that my grade? I didn’t recognize it. It was foreign to me. My heart sunk. I had been told all my life that I was smart. That I could write. That I was clever and witty and who was this man to tell me otherwise?
Oh, no one of consequence.
Just the best English teacher I would ever have in life ever always period exclamation point dot com.
I ended up having Dr. Browning for two years, as he moved up to Senior English with us. I had him for Advanced Placement English both years, plus a class he invented called Literature and the Community, a proactive class intending to turn us students into contributive members of our city through studying relevant literature and twice a week volunteering somewhere in town. I personally think DB just wanted that last period of the day free so he could go home early. (JK, DB! LOL! ROFL! BYOB! NASA!)
DB was a hard ass. That first year in AP English, several students dropped out. I couldn’t make a decent grade on a paper to save my life. I had no idea what he wanted from his students. When I thought I wrote something eloquent, he lambasted my style. When I thought I wrote something informative, he scoffed at my research. I was quickly learning that English, a subject I had always breezed through before, was not easy. (Whaaaaat???)
Eventually, it got to me. My grades told me I was average in an above-average course. I was in AP Calculus and AP Art, I was a starter on the soccer team, everyone else, everywhere else was telling me I was great. So I sucked it up, approached him after class one day, and asked him if it was too late to drop out of AP English. It was hard to admit that maybe I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was, but there was a tiny bit of relief waiting in the wings, knowing I would have at least a slightly lighter work load.
He told me there was no way he was letting me drop AP English.
I was shocked. I argued. Had he read my papers? He remained firm. I stomped my feet and went to my next class.
On the very next paper we turned in, I received a perfect grade. My jaw dropped. The heavens opened, angels rejoiced. I’m pretty sure I saw my dead grandfather hovering in the clouds above, starting a slow-clap in my honor. I had just found the Holy Grail.
After class, Dr. Browning told me that was the best paper I had ever written. Somehow, I knew he was exaggerating. Somehow, I knew he spared that red pen because one more less-than-stellar grade might have been the straw that broke this camel’s back. But seeing that A+ in his indisputable handwriting was enough.
I ended that year with a “B.” But I had survived my first year with the intimidating Dr. Browning.
My senior year with Dr. Browning went by more smoothly. We knew what he expected. We knew what an “A” paper should look like. We knew when his birthday was. We knew what brand of cigarettes he smoked. We knew the grade written on the top of our papers directly correlated to how strongly it smelled of nicotine and coffee (the stronger the smell, the lower the grade, as if he needed his vices just to get through our writing). We had inside jokes, we found his good graces, and we knew what it felt like to be deemed intelligent by a truly brilliant teacher.
Dr. Browning was the first teacher who told me I could write. Really, really write. And I’ll never forget the moment I doubted that, the moment Dr. Browning exalted my mediocre writing just to restore my confidence, the moment I began to believe him when he said I just had to find my voice.
I think I found it, DB.
Who was your Dr. Browning? The person who challenged you to go above and beyond?
• • •
If you have writing chops and are interested in submitting a piece of writing for #TWITS: Teachers Who I Think Scored / Teachers Who I Think Sucked, write a specific memory about one teacher you had and explain how that person helped you (or really screwed things up for you), as well as the life lesson you took away from the interaction. Essays should be around 700-800 words.
Interested but have questions? Email me!
My information is under the Contact Me tab.