Thank you, Mr. M

Thank you, Mr. M

I had an English teacher in high school who assigned the class an essay every week.  It could be a reaction to a poem, novel or analysis of a particular literary movement we were studying at the time. Sometimes they were creative, but nine times out of ten they were objective and thematic in nature. I recall staying up into the wee hours every Wednesday evening scrambling to finish my 3-4 pages with some semblance of wit, style and clever understanding of the subject matter. This is before the days of mobile phones, tablets and individual laptops’s when (gasp!) work was actually hand written, and so understandably word count targets dismissed in favour of pages written. I say this but in reality my mum would often stay up with me, sipping tea watching Columbo and keeping me company whilst awaiting my draft to type on our putty-coloured, block-ish IBM PC. She was, and still is, my biggest supporter. There was no piece too long nor deadline too tight to meet. The sound of her clicking away in the corner of our living room/make-shift office, agile fingers whirring over the keyboard, was a comfort as I passed over my pages only to commence any one of a dozen other homework assignments bestowed upon me during my days of academia.

The next morning, first period, as we filed past Mr. M and handed in our respective essays, some immaculate with title page and binding, others chicken scratch, there was relief and uncertainty at the same time, an emotional cocktail of achievement mixed with anxiety. For starters, he was tough. Very tough. Considered, provocative and meticulous, every angle and perspective analysed, every potential source of symbolism poured over and devoured reducing any given book to a mere husk of itself. And then technically every indented paragraph, sentence fragment and misspelled word scrutinised with a fine tooth comb, no split infinitive overlooked or passive voice ignored, as quite rightly any bow-tie wearing, tweed-bedecked English teacher worth their spectacles should ensure (except Mr. M was partial to non-iron shirts, khakis and SAS shoes).

Granted I always experienced nerves on some level during and after most exams, calculus, biology, history. Yet when handing in said tests I normally had an instinct of how I had fared. There is no grey area in maths, no room for subjectivity. English is an entirely different subject matter all together and so my sense of accomplishment lasted as long as it took me to realise I would eventually have to suffer the consequence of Mr. M’s mark.  I might enjoy a few days of blissful ignorance depending on the length of essay and time it took to review his stack of stuff, smug knowing I had done my bit now it was over to him, ha! But it did not last, and eventually they were handed back. Glancing at the title page, one eye half-closed, hoping for the best but girding myself for the worst and then the heat rising to my face at the sight of the big, fat C+. C+!?! I read on, page after page of notes and red ink slashed across the text, my text, my thoughts, my mum’s impeccable typing! Angry, spiteful, a damning indictment against all my hard work, late nights and double spell-checking. Of course my mum thought he was unduly harsh and had yet to fully appreciate my literary talent. (I think I mentioned she’s my biggest supporter). I was utterly deflated.

These past weeks I was thrust back in time as I submitted my synopsis and first draft for some much needed critical review. Like so many years ago, I’m exposing my hard work to someone else’s opinion, to those with no agenda but to tell me the truth. There was a familiar relief at finally clicking the send button, confident at the very least I had made it as readable as possible, knowing for a brief moment my work was done. I felt worthy of that glass of wine. Days later the anxieties resurfaced as checking my email I see the familiar RE: and subject title top my inbox. I open it and in a flash I’m back in Mr. M’s class. I had learned to prepare for the worst, indeed hard-wired to expect it. But I could take it. In fact, it wasn’t all that bad, but incisive, constructive feedback. I think they might have actually liked it. Whey-hey! It’s not total rubbish! Phew! At least, that’s what my mum tells me.

So yes, Mr. M was severe, rigid, unapologetic, but looking back often times right. And whilst the C’s were a blow, it made the A’s all the more special. He made me work for it. Hard. Like now. Nothing came easy and for that I owe a huge thank you to Mr. M, wherever he is today.


  1. Shannon Rigney
    Sep 25, 2013

    January-I think I know who you are talking about here!! Wonderful blog!

    • January Hope
      Oct 8, 2013

      Shannon baby!! Yes you do indeed!!! Wow! And I also now have one reader, yea!!

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