In Memoriam, On Teachers

My body is in Boston, but my head and heart are often elsewhere.

This week they've been in Baghdad and Beirut and this morning  in Paris on account of the tragic events that unfolded last night and wreaked havoc on one of the world’s most distinguished and universally-adored cities. 

But thousands of miles nearer than France, my head and heart are also in Englewood, New Jersey, at the funeral of one of the most influential, universally-cherished teachers from my high school.

I have a love-hate relationship with Dwight-Englewood, the school I attended between 6th and 12th grade. Outside the scholastic realm, the experience was middling for me. But for all the confusion I experienced in my teenage personal life and all the stress I felt when thinking about applying to college and "planning my future" (because if you know me, you can imagine that I was already "planning my future” at age twelve) my academic experiences in high school were largely wonderful. Perhaps I’ve had bad luck or just done a poor job in picking my classes in the last six years of my higher education. Still, by sheer percentage of “good teachers encountered," my high school far surpasses the more famous institutions where I’ve studied (and educations for which I paid many thousands more dollars).

There was Señora Kanter, who introduced me to “el realismo magico” and the world of Spanish literature and poetry. Had I never studied Don Quijote with her, I doubt I’d have had half as interesting a Common Application essay on the power of imagination. And had I not witnessed her generously bake every week for her officemates and students and create a cult community following around her blondies and galletas, I doubt I’d have ever started a food business. There was Mrs. Devito, who was the toughest, sharpest, most worldly teacher I ever had. She gave me an incomparable appreciation for art and is the only reason I’ve ever been to Europe: I was lucky enough to join her for two spring breaks on brilliantly-executed trips to across the continent. Then there was Mrs. Sagan, a delicate woman whose age I could never guess, who spent the entire year doing an independent study with me on Anna Karenina and wrote my honors society induction speech. If I ever earn the privilege of being written about again, that person will have a very high bar to clear: Mrs. Sagan brought me to tears. 

My encounters with Mr. Krauthamer, affectionately known as “Kraut," were very few. I knew his wife better as my 7th grade history and first--and best--lacrosse coach. But they were not so few that I couldn’t stand in awe of the man. He was my Debate Team coach and my running coach for the one spring season I ran track instead of lacrosse. 

Kraut, the quiet, wiry-framed genius, was almost certainly privier than he let on about the half-furtive relationship with my halfway-to-boyfriend debate partner between 10 and 12th grades. As a teacher, coach, and friend, he was almost certainly amused by our borderline "rom-com" dynamic in cross-examinations and closing statements. 

At my parents’ home in New Jersey, there are a few debate team awards lining the foyer, but more interestingly, a DVD on my bedside table of me racing the 800-meter the day after my senior prom. Kraut made it for me “to share in the future.” “With whom?” I remember asking him. He said something to the witty effect of “with your children one day,” and I laughed in disbelief as a maladjusted feminist who thought that children would never be something I could want if I wanted to be successful. I plan to watch that video the minute I get home for Thanksgiving.

There were many other teachers I could name, people who my friends from high school will know and remember but many of those reading this post will not. Suffice to say that they irrevocably shaped the course of my life and education, as great teachers do. If I have any hope of leaving the world a better place than when I found it, it’s because I left their classrooms a smarter person than when I entered them. In the fall of my last formal year of schooling before “the real, real world” and in the month that revolves around Thanksgiving, I’m grateful to my teachers. For teaching me things that make me a more intelligent, more compassionate, and more interesting human being. For giving me an education that empowered me to choose how to spend my life. For believing in me more than I believed in myself and teaching me how to believe in others as they believed in me. 

Kraut: May your body rest in peace. May your soul keep running.