Tribute: Teachers Who Formed Me

Bernis von zur Muehlen
Photo by Stephanie Knapp/The Connection

Today I filled out the final forms and submitted the last paperwork to make it official: I start school again next week for the first time in almost 20 years. I’ll be pursuing an MBA in marketing and project management, fields that reflect my career path–but I never thought I’d be the one to add that appellation to my name and resume.

Reviewing my old college transcripts and looking through my files at High School awards last night, in preparation for that step, was a trippy enough experience that I woke in a muck sweat this morning at 5AM from a nightmare about a hulking brute of a man who was intent on torturing and raping the female character of the dream. I don’t think that’s a preview of experiences to come, but it does point to the profound impact school can have on a person.

In my case, it’s also brought to mind my favorite and most impactful teacher: Bernis von zur Muehlen. She was the first person to eviscerate my early poetic attempts; she was the one who selected me to be the editor of my school’s literary arts magazine; she accepted me as her teacher’s aide; and she was the one who said something on the order of: “I’m so jealous you’re an NFJ-type; you have all the propensities of the best novelists”. It was a startling thing for me to consider–not the least because I so looked up to her for having her photography hanging at the Corcoran, the Delaware Art Museum, and the Baltimore Museum of Art. I had loved words and writing from an early age, but I never thought I could string together enough of them to produce an entire book. Poetry was more my style and inclination. And that, I knew, would need a back-up plan, given the dearth of space dedicated to that literary form. Yet, my senior year, I won fourth place in a state-wide poetry contest. It was the first time I won an award like that–and got paid for words I had made up.

Now that I’ve published two novels–and gotten my first royalty check–that echo to the past has been replaying in my mind. Vonz had it right, but I didn’t have faith in myself to accomplish what she expected until 25 years later. It’s a testament to her impact that I even considered the possibility, the first time I heard about NaNoWriMo.

And it’s a testament to some of the other great English teachers I had (Mrs. Kirby and Mrs. Bakke) that I learned the fundamentals of English well enough to have tested out of that core graduation requirement in college. They also instilled the love of literature deeply enough that I majored in two other languages to ensure I continued to be exposed to great literature. I’m hopeful this new course of study will prove enriching along those lines, but my new teachers will have some big shoes to fill.

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5 thoughts on “Tribute: Teachers Who Formed Me

  1. I had Bernis as a teacher in HS. And was also on the Heritage staff and a teacher’s aid. That lady is brilliant and taught me so much. So fortunate to have had her guidance. I did have a substitute teacher for her class once that had been at UVA. One of his English Profs there asked, “Was Bernis von zur Muehlen your English teacher?” He said no and the prof said, “Pity”. Couldn’t say it better myself.

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