In high school I had a bit of a crazy teenage attitude and read shocking books like Go Ask Alice and Helter-Skelter. My quiet hometown in the northeast corner of North Dakota was so far removed from the rest of the world, I had no idea what was happening apart from cruising main, hunting season, and harvest. Books showed me the other side of life, often a life I didn’t want to be a part of.
Our librarian/English teacher was considered the “meanest” teacher in the school because she made you study and write papers, and didn’t accept excuses. She pushed her college-bound students more than most of the other teachers. She challenged my thesis statement for my final term paper for weeks until I finally understood. Yes, it took me that long. It took me longer to understand how to prove my thesis statement within the text of my paper.
She even dared challenge my book choices. When she saw me reading Helter-Skelter she suggested I read Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. Actually, she MADE me read it. She wouldn’t take no for an answer. She said if I was interested in that type of topic, I should at least read good literature. I yawned in my mind and fake smiled as she explained Capote’s genius in writing the first non-fiction novel. She thought I would relate to a journalist turned novelist since I was a reporter for the county newspaper at that time.
I saw another assignment and not inspiration. Reading was supposed to be a fun escape, not homework.
I rushed through the book so she would stop asking me questions about the book. As with everything she asked of me, I complained that she “picked on me.” I didn’t think she made anybody else read extra books.
Then I went to college.
While I was unprepared in other areas of study, I knew how to write papers. The easiest classes were the classes with papers, because I knew that “A” would raise my overall score. In American Government I opted for the essay tests and kept an A average.
At some point in my college career, I returned to Mrs. Kertz and thanked her. My understanding of her impact on my life deepened as I grew in wisdom and aspirations.
Now, I totally get it.
As I meanly push and prod my kids to work hard and achieve, I think of one of my favorite teachers, Mrs. Kertz. The one who helped me get through college. The one who set high expectations and wouldn’t lower the bar.
Mrs. Kertz, thank you for seeing something in me worth pushing. Thank you for challenging me and caring enough to never accept second best.
And thank you for introducing me to Capote and igniting the dream that this newspaper reporter could turn novelist.