In Robert Fulghum's latest book, What on Earth Have I Done?, he lists questions he calls Conversation Lifeboats. It's an intriguing list that helps to make strangers no longer strangers. His first question is, "Did you ever have a great teacher - in school or out? Tell me."
This blog entry is a departure. It doesn't relate to a book or libraries. It does relate to me, and what helped to make me the person I am today. I already loved books. His class gave me an exposure to literature that is necessary for cultural literacy, for life. This note is about that great teacher in my life.
My sisters would probably say Larry Zimmer was their greatest teacher as well, but I can only speak from my experience. Larry Zimmer was my English teacher in my junior and senior years in High School. He challenged us, taught us more than any other teacher, brought the experiences of our first two years of high school English together. I had outstanding English teachers in those first two years, but it's the lessons I learned in Mr. Zimmer's classes that I remember.
We studied poetry - Frost and Sandburg. We wrote our own poetry, and many of us had it published. In those classes, I first read Hawthorne, Melville, Faulkner. I read my first Eudora Welty short story, and, when I had the chance to meet her when I was in college, I knew who I was meeting. We worked in small groups, and did group presentations. We also had to research and do an individual presentation to the entire class. I pinpoint my love of Readers' Theatre to the day I appeared in front of the class to present the theory that Nero Wolfe was Sherlock Holmes' son. I had been captivated by a book that said that, and, wearing my father's bathrobe, and carrying a pipe, I portrayed the detectives. Mr. Zimmer gave me the confidence to get up in front of the class, and, completely out of character, make that presentation. We read Greek drama, Sophocles and Aristophanes. How many high school students still read Greek drama? Then, we took that drama, researched, and wrote Greek Reviews, major papers that were larger than any paper I ever wrote in college. He took us to Cleveland, to see a professional performance of Hamlet. He gave us phrases, and we had to write creative stories. I still remember one, "She met him over a strawberry ice cube."
I was in the accelerated English classes, but I took a reading class for independent study. Mr. Zimmer brought his class into the reading lab at the time, and, in working with the boys in that class who were not outstanding students, I had the chance to discover how much smarter they were than I was, in some of the more practical aspects of life. I couldn't read a map to save my life, and they could easily pick up that skill. It was a lesson just watching Mr. Zimmer work with them.
I went back to my hometown as library director, and Mr. Zimmer brought his classes to the library, and treated me as a peer. He told me to call him Larry, and we discussed his class assignments.
I never think of Larry Zimmer as Larry. I still admire the teacher I had, who helped me develop writing and reading skills. He expanded my reading world. He was one person who helped me become the person I am today.
I did write Larry Zimmer once, and thank him. I told him he was a wonderful teacher.
So, Robert Fulghum, Larry Zimmer was the great teacher I once had. And, this is a wave of thanks to Robert Fulghum for asking the question, and to Larry Zimmer, for all of the questions.