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Author Wally Lamb Was My Teacher in High School

Updated on January 31, 2018
Karen Hellier profile image

Karen Hellier is a freelance writer and eBay entrepreneur. She lives happily in the mountains of North Georgia with her husband and her dog.

Wally Lamb, teacher and author
Wally Lamb, teacher and author | Source


Many of you may have heard of Wally Lamb as the author of such books as, "She's Come Undone," (1992), and "I Know This Much is True" (1998), both choices for Oprah's Book Club. He also has written two other books, "The Hour I First Believed," (2008) and "Wishin and Hopin': A Christmas Story" ( 2009). He also recently published the book, "I'll Take You There". Wally Lamb has also edited 2 books about stories written by women incarcerated in a women's prison in Niantic, Connecticut. The first of these is,"Couldn't Keep it to Myself: Testimonies From Our Imprisoned Sisters" and " I'll Fly Away: Further Testimonies from the Women of York Prison". What you may not know about Wally Lamb though is that long before he published his first book, he was an English teacher at a high school in Norwich, Connecticut. The school is the Norwich Free Academy. It was my high school actually, and as a senior in high school, I had Wally Lamb for a 1-semester Poetry and Song class.

Although I admire Wally Lamb greatly as an author, this is not about his writing ability, but about his teaching ability and how his encouragement affected me in a very positive way.

High School

When I was in high school, I was very quiet and rather shy. Although I had strong abilities in English classes, I was very weak in Math, and foreign language, that foreign language in high school being French. My last name at the time was Favreau. My Dad's relatives originally came from Canada before moving South to New England. With a solid French surname, most people had high expectations of my ability to conquer the French language; especially my French teachers. Unfortunately, their expectations were too high, as I truly did not understand the language. I struggled the best I could through French class, embarrassed by earning C's for grades. But part of my trouble was the French teacher I had in both my first and third years of high school. She was quite abrupt and expected nothing but total attention and passion for this language of the French. I constantly was embarrassed by, and struggled with the awareness that while French blood coursed through my veins, the French language did

I constantly was embarrassed by, and struggled with the awareness that while French blood coursed through my veins, the French language did NOT! To make matters worse, the teacher constantly called on me to answer aloud in class. Most times I did not know the answer and turned a bright shade of red as I shrank down in my seat and shrugged my shoulders. I can still feel the burning in my cheeks now as I think about those moments. It got to the point where I hated even walking into the classroom every day. The same was true for Math, a subject I struggled with since the day I started first grade. That subject to this day confuses me, but again, the teacher's quite often would call on me to answer aloud in class or to go to the board to complete and equation that I did not understand. I stayed after school some days, and my parents even hired a Math tutor for me because you had to pass high school Math classes to get into college. It felt unfair to me that teachers who knew I didn't understand the work in the classes, would bring attention to that fact by asking me to answer in front of my peers. You might be thinking that I was not that bright, but I was in all College Prep classes and got mostly A's with a few B's thrown in for my other classes such as Science and History. By the time I reached my senior year, though, I had been internally programmed to NOT raise my hand to answer questions in class because I had already had so many negative experiences in my Math and French classes. I was not willing to take any more chances even if I thought I knew the answer because I was so ashamed of my experiences in the classroom in Math and French. Raising my hand in a class ranked a strong 9.5 on a scale of 1 - 10, with 10 being the worst of things I did not want to do. The only thing that outranked raising my hand in class on that scale was going to the dentist...a very strong ten.

I stayed after school some days, and my parents even hired a Math tutor for me because you had to pass high school Math classes to get into college. It felt unfair to me that teachers who knew I didn't understand the work in the classes, would bring attention to that fact by asking me to answer in front of my peers. You might be thinking that I was not that bright, but I was in all College Prep classes and got mostly A's with a few B's thrown in for my other classes such as Science and History. By the time I reached my senior year, though, I had been internally programmed to NOT raise my hand to answer questions in class because I had already had so many negative experiences in my Math and French classes. I was not willing to take any more chances even if I thought I knew the answer because I was so ashamed of my experiences in the classroom in Math and French. Raising my hand in a class ranked a strong 9.5 on a scale of 1 - 10, with 10 being the worst of things I did not want to do. The only thing that outranked raising my hand in class on that scale was going to the dentist...a very strong ten.

By the time I reached my senior year, though, I had been internally programmed to NOT raise my hand to answer questions in class because I had already had so many negative experiences in my Math and French classes. I was not willing to take any more chances even if I thought I knew the answer because I was so ashamed of my experiences in the classroom in Math and French. Raising my hand in a class ranked a strong 9.5 on a scale of 1 - 10, with 10 being the worst of things I did not want to do. The only thing that outranked raising my hand in class on that scale was going to the dentist...a very strong ten.

Mr. Lamb's Poetry and Song Class

So, I entered Mr. Lamb's Poetry and Song Class in September of my senior year of high school. I was looking forward to having him as a teacher. Other students that had had him said he was a great teacher, plus he was young and handsome so that was another reason I looked forward to his class. I had always loved to write and had written some poetry on my own at that point. I entered with high hopes of enjoying this class, but of course was not going to raise my hand.

The first assignment in class was to write a paragraph telling Mr. Lamb a bit about ourselves. He would collect them all and then combine excerpts from each letter into one letter from the class to him. We would each get a copy of the letter. I was quite surprised and happy that most of what I had written in my paragraph were included in the letter. That was quite an honor to me, and I thought that maybe he thought I had something worthwhile to say. That's high praise coming from an English teacher. I loved to write and I was very encouraged whenever anyone said anything positive about my writing ability. That was the beginning of a very positive classroom experience for me.

Mr. Lamb was a unique teacher. Instead of having the desks lined up in rows all facing the teacher, in that class, he had the desks lined up in a half circle around him. He either sat cross-legged on a desk, or in a single chair in the open area of the circle. That seating arrangement put students more at ease and made the experience more like a group discussion with a leader, rather than teacher vs. students. The topic of the class was poetry and song. The class discussions were about interpreting the words to poems and songs, many of which were popular in that time period.

At first, I was still afraid to raise my hand, and putting myself in that position of being laughed at and embarrassed if I didn't know the answer. But as time went on in the classroom, I began to feel pretty secure in understanding the material. Mr. Lamb often asked for feedback but didn't call randomly on people for an answer, which was a technique I appreciated. It helped me to trust him more as a teacher. I'm sure it helped other shy students as well. As time went on, I gained more self-confidence, and sometimes the answer to his questions would just seem to want burst right out of me.

I finally gained the courage to raise my hand for the first time in my whole high school career. I felt a sense of accomplishment when my answer was right, not only for answering the question correctly but for having the courage to answer. If you have ever been a student who was called on frequently in a class and didn't have an understanding of the material, I am sure you are familiar with the ol' "keep your head and eyes down and don't look at the teacher" behavior which you hoped would keep the teacher from asking you questions. It worked with some teachers. It worked with him as well.

But once I started to feel more confident, I sometimes did not feel up to raising my hand but looked right at him...a visual signal that I would answer if he called on me. And sometimes, especially when no one else raised their hand in class, he would respond to that and ask me. It was as though he understood my non-verbal signal. I would gladly give him the correct response and it continued to build my self-esteem. By the time the semester was over, I felt much more comfortable raising my hand, and actually joining in the class discussions. This really prepared me for college because, in most of my college classes, classroom participation in the form of answering questions and joining in on subject matter discussions was a big part of the grade. I think if I had gone off to college without the experience of feeling comfortable raising my hand and participating in class, my grades would have suffered severely. I am grateful to Mr. Lamb for helping me overcome this hurdle, and to learn that participating in class can be a very positive thing.People today that know me can't imagine that I was ever shy, and I laugh and remember that shy girl back in high school that was afraid to raise her hand.

When I was researching this article, I came across some information that Mr. Lamb was the very first person to receive the 'Teacher of the Year" award at the Norwich Free Academy, an award that is still given annually at the Norwich Free Academy today. This doesn't surprise me because he had a way of drawing out the best in his students.

This article is a tribute to Wally Lamb for the very positive impact he has had on my life! Not only is he a great writer, but a wonderful teacher as well.





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© 2012 Karen Hellier

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    • Karen Hellier profile image
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      Karen Hellier 6 years ago from Georgia

      teaches12345,

      Yes he was. I have had a few good ones, but unfortunately there were more that were not good teachers. Thanks for reading.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 6 years ago

      I really enjoyed your hub and the wonderful ending. I had a couple of good teachers in my life who took the time to help a shy little girl feel good about herself. Mr Lamb was a wonderful teacher!

    • Karen Hellier profile image
      Author

      Karen Hellier 6 years ago from Georgia

      billybuc,

      Thanks for reading and for the comment. Yeah, they are both good guys... I am fortunate to have had both in my life!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Karen, what a lovely tribute to a mentor and I love the tribute by your husband. Wonderful hub!

    • profile image

      Charles J. Hellier 6 years ago

      Even though Karen is my wife, I can't help saying I'm so proud of her! She has become an outstanding writer in her own right and I'm sure this is due, in part, to her teacher Wally Lamb. But mostly, it's her ambition and talent. Even if I was not married to her, I would say that she's "remarkable". Keep writing Karen! I for one enjoy reading every one of your hubpages.

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