I was having a talk with someone about mentors and influences, and I hadn't really thought I had many "official" mentors... but it has occurred to me that one need not explicitly and personally take a student under one's wing in order to be an influence. So, here's to two English teachers who I now realize were, in fact, inspirations to me, simply by loving their jobs and doing them well.
In addition to being an English teacher, Mr. Rous was also an opera-quality singer, although I don't know if or where he ever performed. When I hear Kelsey Grammer singing show tunes as Sideshow Bob on The Simpsons, I think of Mr. Rous singing for us in class (maybe once a year, when all exams were over) and how damn good he was. He also managed to tell my class -- twice! -- that his wife was in labor with their son for four days. (Perhaps obviously, they just had the one.) He was unwaveringly passionate about the books he taught. He clearly adored all his students, and when they didn't adore him back, he just let it roll right off him. I cannot remember ever once seeing him in a bad mood. It was a joy to be in his class, and I hope he thought it was a joy to teach me in return. I remember hating (and having no respect for) at least one book in every English class I ever took... except his. Somehow, he made it so that I appreciated them all.
Parker was profane, sarcastic, and fabulous. Rumor had it that he'd had an affair with a senior at one point, and ended up married to her. I have no idea if this is actually true, but it fit nicely with his persona as the teacher who treated his students like adults. He let us in on all the jokes (in particular one obscene joke about a dolphin, but that's not the point). By the time I took his class, I was coasting pretty comfortably in all my English classes. I was getting As without even reading the materials by twisting the assignments into what I really wanted to write about, and I did it with enough flair to carry it off in most cases. But Parker busted me. On my third-semester report card, he gave me a 65. A sixty-five. Now, I'd gotten a couple bad grades from him (one in particular for a truly abysmal Great Gatsby paper about that damned green light), but not D-minus bad. I went to him to ask WHY? He looked me dead in the eye and said, "Because you can do better." The third-semester report card didn't count on the permanent record, and he was using it to make a point. He was right. I could do better, and he f*cking knew it. I got something in the high 90s for my final grade from him that year.
Gentlemen, THANK YOU.