(Teacher Tuesday is a weekly feature in which I recognize someone who contributed to my education as a writer and human being. This is the first installment.)
I want to start this thing right, so I need to go back to the very beginning.
In my early years, I was what some might call an “advanced student.” Others have described me at that age as a “child prodigy.” Labels aside, at the age of six, I had skipped ahead to second grade and still found myself to be underwhelmed by the workload. I finished my classwork early, homework was not a challenge, and school was in danger of becoming a place I dreaded going on account of the boredom. Fortunately, I had a lot of people looking out for me, keeping my mind from going idle.
I was lucky to have a great deal of support at home. But on school grounds, I had one person especially who went the extra mile for me. That person was my principal at Memorial Elementary, Mr. Bob Katulak.
Mr. Katulak took extra time with me on a regular basis, calling me into his office so that he could give me extra assignments. As a second grader, he gave me page-long book report assignments, and we had discussion time together. I’ll never forget the first book he assigned to me:
It was not a new book to me; in fact, I’d had a long-standing love for it. (I’ll write about the ways this book influenced my desire to become a writer another time.) But it was the perfect way to enter this arrangement with Mr. Katulak. I knew from the get-go that he had impeccable taste, and from then on I would trust any book he handed to me.
Mr. Katulak was the first educator I can remember who encouraged me to reflect on what I read, to think analytically about what I liked and why. For that, I’m forever indebted.
(For the record, after talking it over with Mr. Katulak, I realized that I liked Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs for the flying food and also the kindly Grandpa. For that matter, I still do.)