(Teacher Tuesday is a weekly feature in which I recognize someone who contributed to my education as a writer and human being.)
This week’s subject is one of my favorite teachers in all of my public schooling: my 10th grade Honors English teacher, Mr. John Yanzek.
I don’t have a picture of Mr. Yanzek, so it is fortunate that when I had him for class, he looked a whole lot like this fellow:
(Yes, that’s the original “Most Interesting Man in the World,” Ernest Hemingway.)
Mr. Yanzek was one of those teachers that, if you ever had him for class, you surely remember to this day. You might even remember him merely because one of your pals had him and quoted him incessantly at the lunch table. Either way, I sincerely hope you had a Mr. Yanzek in your schooling. Here is what I remember from those days with my own personal (who happens to be the actual) Mr. Yanzek.
Without even having to look anything up for reference, I can thank Mr. Yanzek for introducing me to Kafka, Molière, Ibsen, Euripedes, Jane Austen, and William Golding. I can also forgive him for making me read James Fenimore Cooper (though, that experience did enable me to laugh especially hard in college, when I read Mark Twain’s essay, “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offences“).
Even more vividly than my memories of his Hemingway resemblance and the great reads, though, I remember Mr. Yanzek’s hardcore grammar boot camp. The page was our Parris Island and Mr. Yanzek our drill sergeant, breaking us down and rebuilding us — actually, not unlike the sentences he used for examples.
And those examples! Here are my two favorites, crystallized in my memory:
This example was used to introduce the idea of an adverbial noun: “I beat the hell out of my neighbor Tuesday.”
Here is how Mr. Yanzek demonstrated the expendability of prepositions, adverbs, and adjectives:
Little children at parties are often greedy little pigs.
Little hildren at parties are often greedy little pigs.
Children are pigs.
“Everything you really need to know is still there,” he noted.
Off-color? Yep. Borderline-inappropriate? Perhaps. But I’ll tell you what: fifteen years have passed, and I still remember all the arcane details of English grammar, down to the very last verbal. And for that, I am truly indebted.