I always thought the teacher who influenced me most in my life was my junior high math teacher, Mr. Burns. I had to learn algebra and I didn’t even know my times tables so I was a real pain in the ass. He was so patient and kind and always offered to help me outside of class. I know between the two of us there were mountains of frustration. He was definitely a good influence and helped me enough to know algebra for at least the 5 minutes at a time I needed to pass his classes. That’s how long it stayed with me after I left there too. High school math was just a lost cause. We don’t talk about that at all.
Mr. Burns’ left arm was deformed and totally useless and I remember it would just hang there or he would simply toss it or swing aside if it got in his way. The other kids used to make fun of him at first until they could see he had heard it all before and could care less what was said about him. He had a tough skin that one did. He was smart and didn’t talk down to the kids. Then there was nothing but respect from everyone. It was my first time respecting a teacher too. He was a really good teacher but I still don’t know my times tables.
The teacher who did influence me and my life the most was Harry (Hersh) Zetner who was first my anthropology teacher and then my English teacher in high school. At that time I really didn’t know anything about the world, certainly nothing like what Mr. Zetner taught me. Mr. Zetner was Jewish and lost a great deal of his family in the Holocaust. I never knew there was racism and hatred in the world like that until his classes. Or anything so horrible as the Holocaust. It was unbelievable but I believed it. My eyes were opened so wide I could never close them again. The books we read, the films we saw never left me. I think there was only one or two Jewish girls that I knew of in my classes and in my friend circle but I never knew they were until Mr. Zetner called upon one of them to talk about some of her family history. I was fascinated with her after that. It would never have occurred to me that anyone was different from anyone else I guess.
My parents would be into the stereotypes of different races and cultures and I don’t even want to write down what those were here. They, of course, learned it from their parents and so on. I was truly fortunate that it didn’t rub off on me which is so surprising. I found myself, as an adult, correcting them quite often about labeling people and trying to get them to see people as individuals. They always looked so surprised there could be any other way to look at things. How the heck did I turn out this way? Don’t get me wrong. My parents were kind and tolerant people and very simple folk is the only way to describe them.
Oh and I never seem to stop learning about the indignities genders, many races, and cultures face. It’s trying to understand the “why” of it all.
Anyway, Mr. Zetner died in 2002 and I re-read his obituary today. I found out more about the man then I knew before and I never doubted he would do more wonderful things after I left the school. After he became ill and could no longer teach, he spent his time going to schools talking to children and teens about the Holocaust and how it could easily happen again. I think he opened a lot of other eyes. We need more people like him.
He was a truly sincere and hard-working teacher that taught me a lot about life and its cruelties but also that there are good souls out there leading the rest of the world to a better way of thinking. I learned there can always be another way. He is one reason why I’m so interested in how the mind works and where people came from and where do we go from here. And just, again…why?
I admire him because he took something he had a passion for and knowledge of and made it his life’s work to educate the world as much as possible. He wanted to end the stigma. This is what I want to do about mental illness. I think it might be something for me to look at in the future and I very well think I could do it.
I have an appointment, finally, with the Canadian Mental Health Association’s intake worker, after 6 months of being on their waiting list. They are going to get me more organized and help me get back to work. Or maybe speaking too? I don’t know but it’s on my list.
Peace and love. Please.