English teachers can always spot readers. The new paperback nestled in their bag next to the laptop. Nose deep in the latest Icelandic mystery in the corner of the cafeteria while peers fool around on cell phones or touch (sometimes even smell) each other’s hair. The way these little bibliomaniacs ask questions with obvious knowledge of the true elements of narrative. Wide vocabulary. Essays that are a joy to read, sometimes even to friends who don’t even know the student or really what you do as a teacher. All those things are definitely true for Ann Galbraith. Even this year, when Ann is sadly no longer my student (double sigh), I hear things that remind me of her deep love and thirst for language. For instance, Ann’s English teacher Ms. Peters-Miller-Saltzman started a Dostoevsky book club, and Ann was the first to sign up. Each week, a group of students, teachers, (love the Oxford comma!) and administrators gather to discuss works by the great Russian. Ms. Peters-Miller-Saltzman told me Ann always asks the best questions and, as an aside, informed me that Ann wrote one of the best essays in her class on A Hundred Years of Solitude. I told her I wasn’t surprised about the quality of Ann’s essay or the idea about the Dostoevsky book club since I proposed a Chekhov book club four years before under the previous administration led by Principal Korsk. We were standing in the faculty lounge near the coffee maker (clogged again!), and I explained that the excuse I was given was that the Russians were no longer relevant to teenagers and due to a lack of space and an overabundance of clubs (Jewish Pride, Knit for the Unfit, Glee on Me) that it was not possible at that time. Ms. Peters-Miller-Saltzman, who drinks something called Yerba Mate Tea (pronounced matay), ignored my history but said I was welcome as a participant, but I needed to make sure I didn’t dominate the conversation. My students would say, “As if!” to that type of backhanded invitation.
These stories about this fine scholar remind me how much I miss having her in class, and how well prepared she will be for a liberal arts education.
I was lucky enough to have Ann in my American Literature course last year. As you might expect, this bibliophile was often the first one finished with The Great Gatsby or Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison. Further, she was the first to have great discussion questions ready on 4 by 6 yellow index cards or, better, new angles on narratives I’ve been studying for years. I recall distinctly how Ann asked amazing questions about the minor characters in Hamlet. Not only was she interested in the moral and sexual ambiguity of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, she even looked at minor players like Osric, and why Shakespeare included him so late in the play. She told the class that she thought Osric was a lonely wealthy man who spent most days alone, wondering how to ingratiate himself with the “in-crowd” like Hamlet and Horatio. She said she thought Osric might even settle for the companionship of Bernardo, gay or straight; in her opinion, it didn’t matter. She drew a picture that she attached to her midterm, a color drawing of Osric and Bernardo in full regalia on prized steeds. I knew they were prized steeds since Ann had labeled the entire drawing, down to the type of bit in the horses’ mouths (snaffle bits?) and the native grasses in the foreground of the picture. The whole thing must have taken her hours! I mean, come on! Ann was my ace in the hole, a student I could turn to at any time, and a fellow elocutionist I could give books to and then discuss them outside of class. Last year, the Scottish writer A.L Kennedy visited our school, and Ann simply adored her work. I had extra copies of some of Kennedy’s novels and stories, and Ann asked to read them. Even though junior year at RRHS is quite rigorous (especially my course), Ann wanted more to engage her amazing mind. She even went so far as to do one of her now famous drawings based on a Kennedy short story: Kennedy bare-chested on a prized steed in jodhpurs complete with her tiny labels, and handed it to the great Scottish author after her talk. Kennedy didn’t know what to say! Can I tell you how much that type of grand gesture means to a humble man who preaches the gospel of reading and writing to teenagers?
Just as the sun feeds the hawkweeds, reading feeds writing, and Ann is no exception. Her prose is complex and multi-tiered like the great Parthenon, filled with lovely road-like sentences and wise, wise choices. As I said, the seniors read A Hundred Years of Solitude and other difficult Latin American novels. I saw the assignment Ann was given, and even I thought it was quite challenging (and a bit confusing). Ann, however, found a way to clearly highlight the differences between two male protagonists and write an excellent essay (at least I thought it was. Ms. PMS gave it a flat B). Ann did the same for me last year over and over. In fact, she even managed to salvage a writing project that would have most likely failed in less capable hands. I assigned Ann a partner, Dexter Simkins, for a project on Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and her partner flaked on her. All of a sudden in the heat of the third quarter (the toughest), Simkins went out and got diagnosed with “work avoidance disorder” so we were all told to forgive the rest of his assignments until after Spring Break. That heated my timing belt, I’ll tell you that much. I Googled “work avoidance disorder” or WAD, thinking Simkins made it up but sure enough, it’s a clinical diagnosis. My friend Noah who teaches chemistry down the hall warned me that in today’s times you can go into any these specialists, pull on your eyes and you’ll get diagnosed as Japanese. Noah is a bit off-color but there’s truth in there. He’s the one who coined the term CRS (Can’t Remember Sh*t) disorder for the kids who are always forgetting notebooks, assignment sheets, lunch, glasses. He typed up the term and definition and hung it over the copy machine. A lot of teachers had a good laugh over that until the admin took it down. At the last minute, Ann had to do the project on her own, and it was excellent given the circumstances. Even though her time was limited by someone else’s escape hatch, she found ways to write something beautiful and smart and interesting. AND attach one of her now infamous drawings of Simkins bare-chested in a medieval prison! That’s the kind of student she is. That’s the kind of student she will be next year on your campus.
It is my great honor to write this letter in support of this most qualified candidate.
Huj, Huj, Hajrá!,
Richard Fulton Winter
1998 Arizona Junior Humanities Excellence in Teaching Award—Honorable Mention
Class Sponsor of the Alternate Student Council
Author of The Bard’s Gentle Graces (poetry chapbook)