To put in plainly, Arthur Crenshaw is one of the most memorable students I’ve had in my over twenty years of teaching. Many students (and their parents) try to find ways to become “exceptional” in time for the college process by motivational tutors and life coaches, yet Arthur Crenshaw embodies this ideal naturally. I could write pages and pages about what he has added to the Red Rock High community (go Rockers!) but I need to be concise so I will say a) Arthur is in the top two percent of all students I’ve ever had and b) I’m sure he feels the same way and c) he has the drive and ability to be successful at any university in this country in a way that is both rare and remarkable.
I was fortunate enough to have Arthur in my first period American Literature course last year. It is not hyperbole when I say that Arthur was super-duper expertly prepared every single day of my class. Even with a rigorous course load and numerous extracurricular activities and difficult texts by the likes of my old pals, Emerson and Thoreau, Arthur was always ready. He was eager to super-ace my reading quizzes as well as participate in ways that were not only intelligent but enthusiastic and super entertaining as well. I loved watching Arthur get excited (or upset) about justice in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible or racial inequality in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon. Even if he was up late rehearsing with the Roca Sangriento choir (where he’s an all-state baritone), he would stop by my office at 7:30 am to say good morning, ask about my cat, Balzac, or quote two or three lines from Polonius’ advice to Laertes: “Give every man thy ear but few thy voice.” Ha! He was so invested in our debate over whether The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn should be taught in high school that (upon my advice) he called schools in different regions all over the country as research. As you’d might expect, the Southern schools had a lot to say (whoo, did they!). There were many days where I thought Arthur could have easily taught my class for me. One time he actually did when I had an odd shaped mole under my arm that turned out to be nothing (phew!). Even when the period was over, he’d continue our discussion about Catherine’s real job in The Great Gatsby (hello? Escort much?) or raise questions about pronoun case as he packed up his tower of textbooks.
Arthur’s current English teacher, Mr. Fine, has specifically asked me to quote him in my recommendation, a request I find quite puzzling to be candid. Supposedly, the college counselors refused to accept another letter from a Humanities teacher ( “too over the top or something,” Fine reported) so he sent me an email to come see him in his classroom. Normally I would find such an electronic request as petulant, given that I’m the veteran teacher here, but since it was about Arthur, I hurried right over. As I walked the halls, I hoped that something hadn’t happened to my star pupil, but Fine wasn’t even his advisor, so none of it made much sense.
When I entered his classroom, I remembered why I didn’t come over to this side of RRHS much. Fine’s teaching “style” is very different from my own. Imagine this: a classroom that never uses lights (switches are taped over with purple duct tape); dishes of hard candy and gum are scattered all over the table (gum=enemy of any school); an espresso machine and various coffees and accoutrements on a portable cart next to some sort off ergonomic chair at the head (or should I say throne?) of the table. Fine was dressed in a V-neck sweater (no undershirt) staring at a very pricey laptop. He acted like he didn’t see me until I was almost upon him; it was then I noticed his bare feet and heard the sound of artificial waterfalls in the background. Get it? That’s the kind of teacher he is. Fine told me that he, too, had been meeting regularly with Arthur before first bell, but Fine made the boy some sort of coffee concoction he “stumbled upon” during a trip to Italy last summer. I didn’t tell him that offering students caffeinated beverages without parental permission was a dangerous game to play, nor did I say that I found his income stream ambiguous since most public school educators were not jaunting off to Europe to discover hidden cafes during the summer recess. Rather, some of us have to work at the welcome center of local state park to help pay the debts accrued helping needy students and replacing faulty appliances during the academic year.
On the table in front of him, next to the tony laptop, was a thin stack of Arthur’s essays so far this year. Fine pointed to the papers and told me he couldn’t believe the work Arthur was doing in his class. I mentioned that I had a larger stack of great prose, some I had copied to use as exemplary work for future generations of learners to come. Fine stared at me and paused but didn’t look away. Other faculty (and most female students) find Fine very handsome (say he resembles minor actor Richard Dean Anderson), yet some of us veterans think him very odd. The man has a PhD in Philosophy (not English) and does rather strange things. Students say he will often stand in the corner for minutes at a time staring at a blank wall when asked a difficult question, trying to locate his “muse”. Some faculty say that he often beds down mothers of his students but I don’t trade in that type of petty gossip.
After a rather uncomfortable pause, Fine asked me if I wanted to look at the statements he prepared on Arthur’s behalf. I shrugged and leaned over his laptop screen. As I was reading, I smelled something sweet. At first, I thought it was the gum and candy but all of that nonsense (petty student bribery really) was sealed. I eliminated cologne since no man of any worth I knew would wear essences of lavender and peach. I pretended to read, fully knowing that I wouldn’t publish a word of Fine’s lengthy overwritten sentences. I know you admission officers prefer brevity and as it was, I already had a lot to say about Arthur. Without appearing too obvious, I tried to locate the source of the smell. I used my peripheral vision (which is quite strong from swimming as a child) and scanned the room from his serious posters of Nietzsche to a supposedly clever one of Wittgenstein asking the students to “turn it down a notch, please.” I didn’t get it. Just when I couldn’t stall any longer, I spotted a purple plastic orb plugged into a light socket under the Smart board. The thing hissed and emitted a fingered scented cloud. Wow. That’s the kind of teacher he is.
I said his stuff looked good blah blah and asked him to email me. Since I know this letter is confidential, I wasn’t concerned about my promise to use his praise of Arthur.
It is my great honor to write this letter in support of this most qualified candidate.
Scents don’t make the man, heart does,
Richard Fulton Winter
1998 Arizona Junior Humanities Excellence in Teaching Award—Honorable Mention
Class Sponsor of the Alternate Student CouncilAuthor of The Bard’s Gentle Graces (poetry chapbook)