Of Teachers and Captains (Jenny O'Connell)

Every time I read something about how influential a teacher has been in someone's life I picture that scene in Dead Poet's Society where the students all stand on their desks reciting Walt Whitman's "O Captain! My Captain!" to show their support for Mr. Keating. Pretty powerful stuff. And then I wonder why I can't think of a single teacher who made me want to defiantly stand on a desk for him/her. And I wish I could.

I think it's so awesome when people talk about a pivotal teacher. I had some very good teachers, people I learned a lot from. I have to say, the teachers I remember as challenging me, as pushing me and making me really think, were not the most popular teachers or the ones who were the most fun. They did their job, they wanted critical thinkers, they wanted me to learn. Now that I think about it, the three that I remember best to this day all taught literature - perhaps not a surprise coming from a writer. I remember the books they taught and how I can still remember the stories and characters and devouring the pages even if I look back and wonder why. Ethan Frome? My teacher made me love it. Too Late the Phalarope? Wow. The House of Mirth, The Awakening, The Bell Jar. Still my favorite books thanks to Ms. Blackwell.

Sure, it's great to be able to pinpoint a single teacher who left a lasting impression, but I'm okay with my compilation of a few. And even if I never felt compelled to stand on a desk in solidarity with them, the books they introduced to my life have lasted way longer than I could have lasted four feet off the floor on a school desk.

And for those of you who also get chills watching Mr. Keating's students make a stand, here it is again.


  1. I also find it hard to pinpoint a single "favorite" teacher or only one who had huge impact on my life. I was lucky to have several--and like yours, they were mostly English and literature teachers, perhaps because we bonded over the topic.

  2. I definitely couldn't pinpoint a teacher either--at least not until college and even then I still had several. And I definitely still get a chill from this O Captain my captain speech!

  3. Same here: My great teacher came in college. I'll never forget Dr. Burling.


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