As a Catholic school survivor I’ve had some pretty memorable teachers. Most of them wore black drapes and were heavily in favor of corporal, not to mention capital, punishment.
But the one I remember most vividly is my high school English teacher, Mr. Gowan (we giggly, flirty 16 year olds called him by his familiar name, Tom, behind his back). Everyone agreed, even the 16-year-old boys, that Mr. Gowan was cool. We couldn’t believe someone so old (I think he was about 26 at the time) could understand how restless, confused and down-right scared we were under our surly demeanors. But somehow he knew. And, more amazingly, we knew he knew, although nothing was ever said aloud. He had a rebel edge himself in 1974, with his tinted aviator glasses and his biting quips. At the same time, he embraced all the things we found pointless at that moment–Beowulf, Hamlet, Ode on A Grecian Urn -and made us as excited about them as he was. I went on to become an English major in college and fell in love with the written word, including my own.
As if that weren’t enough to make me wax poetic about dear old Tom, there were those 60 seconds and 10 words as we stood in silence at the back door of his classroom waiting for my errant school mates on an ordinary day. While staring straight ahead he said quietly and without a trace of sarcasm, “You are so smart. And you don’t even know it.” For a girl who’d spent the last 12 years making sure her hair was just right this was a miraculous revelation. I was absolutely breathless with the thought.
It has taken a long time for my reality to catch up to Mr. Gowan’s where I am the subject. But somewhere in the back of my mind I always kept those words like a secret treasure. Obviously it’s not a secret anymore, but it remains one of my greatest treasures. Thank you, Mr. Tom Gowan. You were a remarkable teacher.