I hated school. I’m so glad I quit. I wish I had left even earlier. But, sure, there were a few good things that happened during my school career, too.
I want to tell you about one of the three most important teachers I ever had. Her name was Alice Mossey. At NCCS high school in Champlain, NY, she managed the study hall (really just a glorified bouncer, as far as I could tell), ran the school play, and served as a substitute at times. I think that’s all. She never actually taught a class I was in.
I didn’t think much of Mrs. Mossey at first. Like a lot of high school staffers, she seemed grumpy as a bosun, most of the time. Comes from years of herding wild kids from place to place, I guess. I personally had no run-ins with her, because I liked study hall. It was an opportunity to sit quietly and work on my Dungeons and Dragons world, or design some new bit of software. I doubt Mrs. Mossey thought much of me, either, until she read a letter to the editor I wrote to the local paper…
(Press Republican, Plattburgh NY, Oct 9 1981)
Reading this today, I’m not happy with the tone of my rhetoric or the quality of my argument. What lay behind the letter is a simple idea: liberation. I wanted to be free. I wanted everyone to be free. But mostly me. (Actually, at the time I was more free than most. I lived alone in a motel room in North Hero, Vermont.)
When Mrs. Mossey read this letter, she seemed to see past its anger. When next she spoke to me, at study hall, she used a different voice. Softer and more respectful than I had heard before. She spoke to me as one adult to another. Mrs. Mossey had a favor to ask.
She wanted me to do the sound for the school play.
The Day I Became an Adult
There must have been many transformative moments in my childhood education. The one I remember most is this final one.
When Mrs. Mossey asked me to do the sound, it was a challenge, because the sounds were all out of order on the reel-to-reel tape. There were no instructions about which sounds were to be played when. There were no instructions at all.
I remember being stuck for a moment. I almost gave up. Then a new part of my mind woke up and took over: the pathfinder. The idea came to me that I should get a script and mark every place that needed a sound. Then I would create an index of the sounds on the tape and make a plan for winding and rewinding the tape. Finally, I would find out what cues would let me know when to play each sound.
Now, this sounds simple to you, I’m sure. If you are an adult, too, you’re thinking “that’s bloody obvious.” But at the time I felt infused with wonder and confidence. I had made a PLAN from NOTHING. I created order from chaos, on purpose. On demand. I did it and knew that I had done it. Later when I became a professional consultant (someone who drops into murky situations and makes sense of them for money) I would have that same experience, and I would connect to that memory of organizing the sound for the school play at NCCS in 1981.
It was my intellectual baptism.
What Mrs. Mossey did was so simple! Such a small part of her career! I probably spent less than 30 minutes in direct interaction with her, my entire time at NCCS. What makes her special is that those few interactions were like precious water to a boy dying of thirst. She offered respect.
Did Alice Mossey look into my soul and know how to talk to me and what challenge I needed at that exact moment in my life? I don’t know. Maybe it was an accident. Still, I feel that I’m in her debt. There are a few teachers I wish I could go back and thank. I found Mrs. Mossey. My eighth grade English teacher, Kaye Creveling, unfortunately died before I thought to go back and thank her. The few other teachers I want to thank I have not been able to find. (Where are you Mr. Bedrin of Fayston Elementary, 1977? Mr. Izor of Harwood Union High, 1978? Mr. McManus and Mr. Callisti of NCCS, 1981?)