My Favourite Teacher - Jackie French
My favourite teacher’s name is Gillian Pauli, and she gave me books.
Literally, as an unhappy and at times desperate teenager, she brought me armloads of books every Monday.
I thought they were from her recent stint at university.
I found out years later that she had hunted them out for me, the books I needed to understand the world, to give me the hope and courage to keep going.
Because of Mrs. Pauli, I never doubted that life could be good, and, one day, would be.
Every writer I know speaks of the teacher who lit the candle that made books sing for them.
It was Gillian Pauli who gave me The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an 1890's book of vicious anti Semite propaganda, because as a 15 year-old I was trying to understand how hatred becomes contagious.
She told me, years later, how she had to convince the shop where she bought it that it was for research not because she was a Nazi sympathizer or an anti-Semite.
A friend of hers, who had survived Auschwitz, saw it on their kitchen table.
'Why do you have this book?' he demanded.
'It is for a student, who needs to understand the Holocaust.'
‘How old is he?’
‘SHE is 15.’
‘But not too young for Auschwitz,’ said Mrs. Pauli’s husband.
Their friend considered. ‘No,’ he said at last.
‘Not too young for Auschwitz. But tell her it is an evil book.’
‘I wouldn’t be lending it if I didn’t think she knows that,’ said Gillian Pauli.
She gave me Giles Goat Boy, as long as I promised not to be corrupted.
She let us meet Hamlet as a play, as Shakespeare intended, not dull text.
We girls passionately defended our differing interpretations of who Hamlet was: hero, fool, manic depressive, a sane man made mad murderer.
She showed us how the Crucible could teach integrity, even if the word was never used.
She also guessed that I was seeing horrors, though not what those horrors were, though when she told the Principal she was told that the private lives of students were no her business, and to stick to teaching.
And she taught us, far more than she could ever know.
The books she gave me have led to Hitler’s daughter, Hitler’s Daughter: the Play; Pennies for Hitler; Ophelia Queen of Denmark; the soon to be released Diary of William Shakespeare, Gentleman.
But she also taught me that writing is a craft.
I had been in love with words, let them flow as they teamed into my brain.
She taught me that writing is for those you write for, not for yourself, and that a book has power for both good and evil, and that power lasts long after those who wrote it have gone.
More than anything else, she showed me that one person can change a child’s life; that every child is our child too, related by blood or not.
Cherish them, teach them, and we create the future, and help to make it good.
Only a small part of Gillian Pauli’s life was spent as a teacher.
I wonder how many other lives those few years changed, as deeply as they changed mine.
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