Teachers change lives.
I was so excited to get a look at my new schedule for the school year that September. After all, it was the beginning of my junior year of high school. Word had spread around about the new English teacher at Pleasure Ridge Park High School.
“Did you see how she was dressed?”
“I think she looks like Twiggy.”
“You know she just graduated from college.” “Check to see if you have her for English.”
Sure enough, I had 5th period English 11 with Miss Alexander. How lucky could I get? Little did I know that schedule would set in motion a life changing year. Not only was Miss Alexander beautiful, charismatic, and cool, she was my new English teacher.
I had probably been the last person selected for the “accelerated program” at PRP. All of the other students were far more gifted and talented than I. I was the runt of that litter and everybody knew it. I had to fight for every morsel, every grade, every accolade.
My best friend and fellow off-beat bombast in those accelerated classes was Judy Cook. We were “Mad Magazine” buddies. We memorized Spy vs. Spy lines, bits, and tricks. We stole our best ideas from The Primer. We copied writing styles and comic pieces. We worked on all of our stories and writing assignments together. “Mad Magazine” was our secret resource for our best material.
I well remember that final writing project for the first semester of English 11. Judy and I brainstormed into that first night. We searched our “Mad Magazines” for inspiration.
We were both competitive people pleasers, and we definitely wanted to outshine our classmates and win the seal of approval from Miss Alexander.
Miss Alexander always sat on a tall stool in front of the class to read the best example of each writing assignment. I don’t know if I was sugared up with Christmas candy and eggnog, but I was wild with anticipation when the day finally arrived for the final project reading. I had written a holiday essay comparing Christmas shopping to a sporting event.
“Was the topic too silly and cliché for Miss Alexander?” “Did I catch all of the errors in time to make corrections?”
“I really wasn’t even smart enough to be in this class. How could I expect to have my piece read as the “Best in the Class?”
Finally, 5th period rolled around. Miss Alexander mounted her stool and rifled through our papers to find the “Best in the Class.” I recognized the words of the opening paragraph right away.
When she finished reading my essay, she peered over her frames at me and said, “Mr. Basham, I like reading your writing.” I basked in that moment for as long as I could. With the twinkle of her eye, the turn of her phrase, the cool of her persona, she changed my life.
On the eve of my most recent high school reunion, I had the occasion to tell Miss Alexander that she had inspired me to become an English teacher on that December day many years ago. Miss Alexander made me believe in myself as a writer, as a scholar, as a person.