English Teacher Reaches Through Student's Haze
Christine Eastus was a double major in English and chemistry with plans to go to medical school. Instead — to the chagrin of her parents — she became a teacher.
In the 1970s, she taught English at Greenhill School in Addison, Texas.
"Once I started teaching, it was a completely new world, sort of frightening in a sense, because you're dealing with students who are so impressionable, but it's heady stuff particularly when people like you, catch the bug and become writers and let you know about it," she tells NPR's John Burnett. "That is a real high, to hear from someone who's your age still remembering me and I'm sure many of them curse me because I guess I was a bit demanding."
Burnett says after leaving Eastus' class, it was a while before he could pick just pick up a book and enjoy it because he was still "digging into light and dark motifs."
Eastus says Burnett stood out because he was so much taller than the other students and played the harmonica.
"And your mind worked somewhat differently from other people's minds," she says. "You find interest in rather pedestrian situations and make them come alive, to this day."
Eastus was so important to him, Burnett says, because he "really felt subhuman in high school, like a lot of students do, I didn't feel like I was good at much anything.
"But I loved to write stories and you reached through the haze and grabbed me by the collar and said, 'keep writing,' and I really think you helped to sort of turn a light on," he says.
"I'm so glad I didn't go to med school," Eastus says.
"So am I," Burnett replies.
For this year's National Day of Listening, pay tribute to one of your teachers on Twitter using #thankateacher, or go to the StoryCorps Facebook page.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
It is Friday morning, which is when we hear from our series StoryCorps, and we have a special edition of StoryCorps on this day after Thanksgiving. For the past few years we've called this day the National Day of Listening. People like you are encouraged to sit down with a loved one or friend and just have a conversation, listen. This year we're asking for something a little more specific. We'd like you to pay tribute to a teacher.
To give you an example of how it works, our own correspondent John Burnett did an interview with one of his high school teachers. Christine Eastus taught him in her Greenhill School English class in the '70s, and the two sat down more recently in her Dallas home.
JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Why did you decide to be an English teacher?
CHRISTINE EASTUS: Well, it's sort of a long story. When I was in college I had a double major, English and chemistry, and I was going to go to med school. I was already accepted in med school. And much to my parents' chagrin, I decided I didn't want to do that, and I ended up doing what was the last thing I ever thought I would do, which was teaching.
BURNETT: But you knew that it was your right path, I mean once you started teaching English...
EASTUS: Once I started teaching, it was a completely new world, sort of frightening in a sense, because you're dealing with students who are so impressionable, but it's heady stuff, particularly when people like you catch the bug and become writers and let you know about it. That is a real high, to hear from someone who's your age still remembering me and I'm sure many of them curse me because I guess I was a bit demanding, wasn't I, John?
BURNETT: You were very demanding. That's actually the word I had written down here, and it was a while before I could pick up a book and just read it to enjoy it, because I was still digging in to light and dark motifs and afraid that I was gonna miss - had to write an essay about - you were demanding.
EASTUS: So what did you read in the meantime that didn't have light and dark motifs?
BURNETT: Oh, I started reading nonfiction, John McPhee and E.B. White, and...
EASTUS: But that's great writing.
BURNETT: Yeah. All that stuff.
EASTUS: That's wonderful writing.
EASTUS: Let's talk about you.
BURNETT: Who were some of your most memorable students? (Laughing)
EASTUS: Yes. You were, because - well, first of all, you stood out because you were so much taller than anybody else, and you played the harmonica and still do.
EASTUS: And your mind works somewhat differently from other people's minds. You find interest in rather pedestrian situations and make them come alive to this day.
BURNETT: The reason why you were so important to me, and why we're having this conversation, is because I really felt subhuman in high school, like a lot of students do. I didn't feel like I was good at much anything, but I loved to write stories, and you reached through the haze and grabbed me by the collar and said keep writing, and I really think you helped to sort of turn a light on.
EASTUS: And this is this woman who was so demanding that she turned you off reading for years and years and years.
BURNETT: I didn't say that. You were an important person in my life in school, and I want you to know that.
EASTUS: Well, thank you. I really appreciate that.
BURNETT: Well, is there anything else about teaching that you want to say?
EASTUS: I'm so glad I didn't go to med school.
BURNETT: So am I.
EASTUS: Thank you very much.
INSKEEP: Christina Eastus with her former student, NPR correspondent John Burnett, who's still really darn tall. Their conversation is part of the StoryCorps National Day of Listening. To pay tribute to one of your teachers, on Twitter use the hashtag #thankateacher, or go to the StoryCorps Facebook page. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.