My English teachers were the highlight of high school
May 10th, 2012
03:14 PM ET

My English teachers were the highlight of high school

Courtesy Bryan ToussaintBy Bryan Toussaint, CNN

Editor’s note: In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week this week, we’re asking our colleagues at CNN to share their stories of teachers who have inspired them. Bryan Toussaint is an associate producer at

I hated high school, or maybe I simply hated adolescence. I found the years between ages 15 and 18 particularly annoying and inconvenient. It was a lot like walking through the security at the airport. Most of us would like to avoid the procedure but going through the experience is the only way to get you closer to where you want to go.

Fortunately, my 11th and 12th grade English teachers, Ms. Kappel and Ms. King, were there to make the adolescence experience a bit more tolerable. They introduced me to Bigger Thomas, Ralph Ellison's invisible man, Holden Caulfield, Basil Duke Lee and other characters that would serve as my surrogate friends.

Many of these characters dealt with the same coming of age issues I faced at that time. Ms. Kappel and Ms. King taught me how to appreciate great literature and through those book reports taught me how to organize my thoughts, how to be a more critical thinker. I'll readily admit that “Invisible Man”, “Native Son” and “The Catcher in theRye” were part of the curriculum.  But I most appreciated the books and short stories they recommended I read outside of what was required, particularly the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald. I thank Ms. King for that.

Ms. Kappel deserves much of the credit, or blame, depending on your point of view, for my decision to pursue a journalism or some other Liberal Arts career. (The D's and C minuses I earned in Algebra, Calculus and Chemistry were also big factors in that process.) I'm an introvert. I can't sing. I'm not particularly athletic and I won't dance unless intoxicated. Writing was always my primary means of expression, my means of "sharing my gifts" as she would say. Ms. Kappel encouraged me to do so through journal writing.

At the time I didn't really understand why she was interested in my thoughts about the world. And while she didn't always agree with the opinions of a wet-behind-the-ears 16-year-old, she constantly told me she appreciated my thought process and the way I chronicled the world around me.

In addition to encouraging me to write, she was the first teacher who genuinely appeared to care about who I was as a person and what I had to say. She challenged to me to do my very best and frequently got after me for coasting my way to a B when she felt I had A+ potential. Ms. Kappel was tough but very fair.  She was someone who sought to motivate me by identifying and exploiting my positives to their fullest while acknowledging my weaknesses and challenging me to improve.  Ms. Kappel probably would have been a great boss. I know she was a great teacher.

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soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. vesperel

    man i hated my english teacher. it was like she was purposely attempting to destroy my ability to enjoy any form of art.

    May 11, 2012 at 11:33 am |
  2. R. Moore

    Inspirational teacher(s)? Have been blessed to have had many : Miss MacManus who read Swiss Family Robinson to our class–out-doors underneath a mighty Oak Tree; Mr. Coffein who played Classical Music when we were taking Math Tests and who extended our recess period to one-hour of strenuous softball 'play' on many occasions; Coach Brumfield who 'kicked butt' (literarily whenever required) while leading our team to an undefeated County Championship Season and who also taught math during the school day; Mr. Johnson who showered his High School students with a firm yet gentle kindness; Coach Mosher, who along with his athletic sons, set strong examples of "physical fitness" long before it became 'fashionable'; History Professor Lane whose lectures were never dull and most enlightening; Professor Newman who taught Business Law I and II with wit and a thoroughness surpassing many Law School Professors...As a direct result of my many inspirational teachers, I became an 'educator'–teaching a thousand different students many diverse subjects from World History, Afro-American History, Civics, English, Geography, Algebra, AP European History, Psychology I & II, Antropology, Civil Disobedience, Spanish, Typing, U. S. History, ESL English & Basic Computer. I Coached over 500 different athletes in nine different sports comprising 40 different Teams. I have three College Degrees, a Masters of The Arts of Teaching Degree, State (Rank II) Teaching Certifications in Social Studies, Business, Economics, History, English, and A Certificate of Merit from Law School where I served as Co-Editor of the Law School Newspaper. All of this would not have been possible were it not for my fortunate association with gifted and inspirational teachers all through my educational life.

    May 11, 2012 at 12:41 am |
  3. jeremiah day

    wow i probibly will agree on that cause for me life sucked through 7-9

    May 10, 2012 at 9:29 pm |