Fiftieth high school reunion time and a few of us have been corresponding in advance. What connects us – other than the obvious – is an enduring admiration for the teacher who illuminated our minds. Others in the group have captured his quirky persona, his penchant for theatrical readings and his unending enthusiasm for language in all its forms.
Picture children of the post-war squeaky-clean suburbs walking into in his 9th grade class on the first day. "I've reviewed the ninth grade English syllabus and reading list prescribed by the Montgomery County Board of Education," he said, "And, after careful consideration, I have decided to dispense with it. Bring in copies of Henry James' 'Turn of the Screw' tomorrow."
Ray Bradbury, Yeats, Auden, Eliot, Shakespeare, Tom Lehrer and an introduction to foreign films followed.
At the end of the year he threw out, "It has been brought to my attention that we've ignored the whole required course of study. I can't understand how this happened. To remedy the oversight, I am posting a list of the books we should have covered over the past year. Please hand in a three-page report on any one of them by next week." (Many thanks to my friend Emily who has held these exact quotes in her memory banks all these years.)
We adored him. We remember him.
Eleven Things I Learned from Mr. Teunis
Writing is important. Language is important.
Funny is good.
Serious is good.
Writing and thought are one.
Look beyond the surface. Things may not be what they seem.
Be brave. Be truthful. Be foolish if need be.
Question the context.
Do things in a big way. Ask everything from yourself.
Go to the source. Don’t be content with what others have said.
Weird is okay, strange is okay, pathological shyness is okay, anguished and desperate are okay.
Bad writing is not okay.