Mrs. Riley, GREAT English Teacher

February 4th, 2011

My girls’ prep school, now coed, is having a reunion – our 35th.

I think a great teacher, Mrs. Riley, and wish I had contacted her once I really realized how truly wonderful she was. But she died before I did. She was in her 90’s.

She was elegant and fun and a positive energy. And stern when she had to be – which was rare – because…well…we just all behaved in her class. She had a very upper class main line accent and truly commanded respect.

I was in awe and most appreciative. But I really didn’t know her. I wonder if she liked musical theater or opera or what she did for fun. Or if she played tennis or gardened or…played piano.

I would have loved to get her take on life – as an adult.

I remember asking her advice – should I take writing classes or reading classes for my senior year. She said, Reading, absolutely. Your writing is fine.

That threw me a bit, because I usually got a 90 on my essays. I would read the writing of those who got 95-100 and couldn’t see why they did and why I didn’t. I never really asked her why.

I do know that in my philosophy class, I had a deeper understanding than my philosophy teacher but he refused to change my grade. A bunch of hooey. It wasn’t that I was chasing grades, I just wanted to know what I did wrong. Or what I didn’t do right.

Once he understood, he said that is way beyond the basics I was teaching.

Me: So now that you understand that I understood and was going beyond, will you give me an A.

Philosophy Teacher: No.

Me: Why not?

Philosophy Teacher: I don’t change grades.

Me: What’s the philosophy behind that?

He’s now doing marketing for a lawfirm. Rather fits. Glad he’s no longer teaching superficial philosophy and unreasonableness to impressionable kids. But instead, he’s living in it. :-)

Some adults said some of our teachers were only a couple of pages ahead of some of us.

Not Mrs. Riley, though. She was stellar. Mrs. Riley had lively discussions and we read fun books like Mistress Masham’s Repose. Fun. I read it a few years ago and still liked it. Or still was in tune with the first time I read it in my childhood so I loved all that surrounded the memory of it.

The last time I remember talking to Mrs. Riley was at our 10th year reunion. She was very gracious and kind and complimentary. I was grateful but my ride was leaving and I was tongue-tied. She was still the teacher of whom I was in awe.

I wish I had let my ride go on and stopped to talk longer.

Yep. I think of Mrs. Riley a lot. I try to think of anyone else I’d wish I had gotten to know before they go but I can’t remember anything let alone names of people I once knew. And often I learn more about people from their obituary.

Like my uncle! Uncle Joe was a weightlifter. Who knew? He was a fairly skinny guy. I guess underneath that appearance of a 90 lb weakling was a big punch.

Since I don’t remember ever saying it, I hope Mrs. Riley knew how much we liked and respected her.

She’s probably watching and grading this essay.



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