How I Learned to Study

I have a secret to share: I have killer study skills. Even if I don’t know the subject, I can figure it out, or at least how to study for it, because of one woman. Carol Clay. People who attended Goddard Junior High can probably reluctantly agree. Mrs. Clay was our eighth grade history teacher in 1992. If you had this woman, you are one lucky bastard.

Mrs. Clay was a number of things. She’s was decidedly southern (Her vendetta against General Sherman lent itself to a t-shirt–not kidding: the only t-shirt she wore all year was a picture of Sherman with a slash through it. She called him a “rompin’ stompin, rootin’ tootin’ idiot).  Her Big Blue Stick was notorious. And her tests . . .

Her tests would qualify for their own circle of hell.

But Ms. Clay did something that, to my knowledge, no other teacher did before.

She expected more.

The test I studied for more than any other, except perhaps my Master’s Exam, was Mrs. Clay’s Civil War Exam. I made an A- and I am incredibly proud of that grade. Mrs. Clay had this very sneaky way of tricking us into memorizing facts (who was Robert E. Lee’s horse?) while taking the major events and elements of the period in stride. For the first time a teacher asked us fill in the blank questions. She was so specific in her questions that the generalities we took for granted. She asked that we know things, that we understand things. We studied ideas. We learned.

What a novelty.

Although I have a great experience for most of my teachers, I can only think of four teachers I have wanted desperately to impress in the course of a primary, secondary, undergraduate, and graduate education. Carol Clay is one of them. Her “Good Work” on that Civil War Exam was one of the highlights of my academic career. I have tried desperately to track down Mrs. Clay, to tell her how much she meant to me. I can’t find her. So . . .

If there is a teacher who has changed your life, let them know. Now. Today. Chances are, they aren’t aware of how much they’ve changed your life. Send them a letter. Write them an email. Tell them. Now. They need to know. Because chances are they are doing this job on a whim and a prayer. Maybe you think they know–you gave then a good evaluation or you once told them you liked them. But when it comes down to it, they need to know that they have made a difference. They need to know that no matter their pay cuts or the issues, that they have made you a better person in some way.



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