It was the first day of my junior year in high school. I walked into an unfamiliar classroom with my books clutched to my chest. The teacher I would soon know as Mr. Carlson sat at his desk in the corner of the room, glancing up now and then to smile cheerfully at the students walking in. At first glance he seemed to be nothing more than an average man with gray hair and thick glasses. But after he gave us a brief introduction and proceeded to open Of Mice and Men to read aloud, I learned that he was, in fact, anything but average.
I'd never heard someone take on each voice of each character and give it an individual twist. Mr. Carlson was animated. He made George Milton sharp and irritated. He adapted Lennie in a slow and childish way. It was like watching a one-person play, and the story came to life as he read it.
The next day I overheard a group of kids talking about Mr. Carlson in the hallway. One boy was louder than the rest as he sneered and mocked Mr. Carlson's rendition of Lennie Small. Suddenly a hush fell over the group, and, frowning, the boy spun around to discover that Mr. Carlson was standing quietly behind him. The boy's eyes went wide and he swallowed, his Adam's apple bobbing up and down. The teacher didn't say a word. He just looked at the students for a moment, and then turned his back to go into the classroom.
One by one we each followed him and slid into our seats. I wasn't sure what to expect. Would he read the story in a mundane tone? Would he change the voice for Lennie to something tame and typical? We waited. Mr. Carlson opened the book and adjusted his glasses. He didn't look up at us. He opened his mouth... and that same dumb, enthusiastic narrative came out.
To most, the impact of this wasn't substantial. For me, however, it had the effect of a tattoo: significant and permanent. When it came to the books we read and the lesson plans Mr. Carlson used, the value added to my education wasn't more than any other teacher. It was the small moments like that day in the classroom, when he'd chosen to disregard his student's ridicule, that stayed with me. I've always swayed to other's opinions of me. Mr. Carlson didn't even bother to acknowledge the disdain. Was it because he just didn't care? Or because his passion for the story overrode any opinions others might have of his narrative? I believe it was the latter.
His passion spurred my own, and Mr. Carlson is a huge reason I love literature today.
Did you have a Mr. Carlson?