Jacob Alfarah is a summer intern with the Corporate Communications team. In the midst of back-to-school season, he reflects on one of his teachers who made a profound impact on his life.
When I entered my senior year of high school, I dreaded English class. Don’t get me wrong, I loved reading, as I always had. But after taking AP English my junior year, a year that made reading a robotic act with only one way to analyze and appreciate an author’s work, I felt defeated by the class I once loved. Little did I know that Ms. Rabbers and her 5th-period literature class would, and I say this not as a hyperbole, shape the trajectory of my life.
I don’t think Ms. Rabbers realized how big of an impact she had on their students. She was able to open my classmates and I’s eyes to the human experience that literature communicates. It is thanks to her that I decided to attend a liberal arts school. It is thanks to her that I decided to major in English literature. It is thanks to her that I am passionate enough about reading to want to make it a part of my career. And it is thanks to her that I am here at Scholastic, the largest children’s book publisher, writing this blog post. All of this is not because she tried to push an agenda of any sort, but because instead of making literature intimidating or a chore, she made it a safe haven. She helped me and my classmates realize that the poetry and novels we were tasked with studying were not simply classwork but instead a learning experience that taught us about ourselves through the stories of others. This is not to say that her class was not difficult because she did push us to become better writers and thinkers through difficult classwork and numerous essay revisions. However, she didn’t allow the difficulty of the material to prevent us from seeing its value. The post is a thank you to Ms. Rabbers and to all the English teachers who are able to spread their passion for literature to their students.
Thank you for not presenting Beowulf in a way that did not make us fear reading Old English but instead allowed us to appreciate the value of writing from centuries ago. To not jade our senses by letting the valuable lesson of courage and loyalty get lost in analysis.
Thank you for teaching us the history of authors. What a writer has been through makes their work that much more accessible. Knowing that Mary Shelley came up with Frankenstein while on vacation with Lord Byron and her husband Percy Shelly in Geneva, Switzerland, makes the novel transcend the power of just the story itself.
Thank you for forcing us to spend so much time on Shakespeare. For asking us to analyze countless sonnets and a number of his tragedies. The writing we did during this time prepared me more for my college English classes then any AP class had before.
Thank you for refusing to accept anyone’s conclusion that “I’m just not a poetry person.” For presenting us with such a variety of different poets that everyone was able to see the beauty the art form deserves.
Thank you for teaching us literature that was assuredly difficult to get approved by the administration at a Catholic school. Being exposed to queer authors like Walt Whitman and Oscar Wilde played such an integral role in realizing more about myself.
Near the end of the year, Ms. Rabbers was giving us some advice as we prepared to leave high school and enter college. One piece of wisdom she shared with us, which I promptly wrote down and constantly replay in my head is: “For you, all students who are passionate and want to do what’s best, deciding what you want to do is not the hard part. Deciding what you aren't going to do, is.” The lessons she allowed us to take away from the authors we had read all year were valuable, but maybe even more so were the ones she told us herself.
Photo credit: Fredrik Rubensson