Ceaselessly into the past - Shawn Loughlin editorial
As a young man interested in literature and the prospect of writing for a living I quickly realized that I was in the wrong place as a student of the high school I attended as a ragamuffin back in Pickering.
This is not to throw shade at the great St. Mary Catholic Secondary School, but rather highlight somewhat of a blind spot in its curriculum at that time. For the English-inclined, there was... English, something called English Media and Writer’s Craft. Meanwhile, my friends who attended the two public schools in the area told me about many targeted writing and literature classes at their disposal - too many to fill a course load.
Thinking of all the options available to my friends in public school, but not for me, I was certainly jealous. Not only that, but there was a practical concern. As a student without pre-requisite credits for different sciences and no cornucopia of English classes to choose from, I was relegated to a number of math courses to fill out my semester. It didn’t go well.
Anyway, this isn’t another column about me, it stands as a salute to the cool English teacher.
Frankly, at this point, I can’t even remember many of their names, so you’ll have to stick with me, but I can tell you, there’s nothing like a cool English teacher. If you’re interested in books, writing, Shakespeare and the like, and you meet a teacher - often on the young side - who shares those similar interests and takes a shine to you, seeing that you’re interested, that is about the best relationship you can have (non-romantic-wise, anyway, we’re not going there - though I will say, I did end up with a cool English teacher or two who, for a teenage boy in the 1990s, fit that bill as well).
I’ve written before about Mr. McLean - the man who lent me money to buy a ticket to a dance after I gave all my money to the girl I wanted to go to the dance with so she could go. (Smooth playing of the long game, I know.) I’ve also written about Mr. Flynn, my Writer’s Craft teacher who, for better or worse, readied a whole generation of young writers for the harsh, unforgiving world of writing for real.
Then there was Mrs. McDavid. We read The Great Gatsby with her and that was when I really began to love writing. It was thanks to her care and thoughtful manner in talking with us about the big themes and underlying messages of the text - beyond what was on the page - that I could understand it all. She was also cool about it when she repeatedly caught my friend and I sharing earbuds in the back of class, listening to The Howard Stern Show (not sure how you do that inconspicuously, but we must have thought we were being that).
There was another one in O.A.C. and I can’t remember her name - which is strange because I took the course twice (to fill out my course load, as mentioned) - who found out a friend and I were watching The Party with Peter Sellers. She said she remembered getting together with her friends in the ’70s and *long pause* watching it too. She was special.
I had another who taught us Catcher in the Rye and encouraged my oddball compare-and-contrast book reports on texts like Requiem for a Dream, Fight Club, The Bell Jar, Girl Interrupted, A Clockwork Orange and more.
There was Mr. Polidano, whom I could talk to about Pulp Fiction and who introduced me to the music of David Bowie and Peter Gabriel and the movies of Martin Scorsese (raising The Last Temptation of Christ in a Catholic school is about as bold of a move as there is).
To all the cool English teachers, I salute you. You’re unique and you mean a lot to those of us who are unique. Here’s to another year.