Someone once asked, “What’s in a name?” I don’t know if anyone definitively answered that question, but I do know names play an important part in who we are. Authors sometimes struggle to find the just-right name for a character. A name can tell a lot about the bearer of it. However, sometimes this can go too far. Sometimes a name simply doesn’t fit at all.
That was the story of Mrs. Schmuck.
Schmuck! Imagine that as a last name. “Schmuck” can even be found in the dictionary with its definition of “a foolish or contemptible person”.
But in this particular case, the New Oxford American Dictionary got it all wrong.
Mrs. Sandy Schmuck was the best English teacher I could have asked for in high school. Even if you hated grammar in your school years, I think you could have liked it if you had had a teacher like her. Day after day, she walked with us through American literature. From the journals of John Smith, John Winthrop and Sarah Knight, through the tales of Twain, Crane, Hawthorne, and Melville to the works of Elizabeth Eliot and Ray Bradbury. She also shared with us the poetry of Bradstreet, Wheatley, Longfellow, Bryant, and Dickinson to name a few. It was as if she took down the tapestry of America’s literary heritage and let us marvel at the masterpiece while also acknowledging the snags and threadbare patches. She knew her subject and made sure we got to know it, too!
Then there was the grammar, spelling and vocabulary. If you didn’t learn how to write well under her tutelage, it was your own fault. At least, that’s how it was for my class – even if no one else slept with their Handbook of Grammar & Composition under their pillow or read it at five o’clock in the morning like I did.
Yet Mrs. Schmuck didn’t just dump knowledge into our heads. Sure, she kept her class moving right along, but she still took time to laugh with us at funny things that happened. I also remember her tearing up when we read Longfellow’s “Auf Wiedersehen” and she told us about someone dear to her who had passed away. Moments like that became the building blocks that created a sense of camaraderie.
What Mrs. Schmuck did might seem basic. She taught literature, spelling, grammar and composition – subjects some people don’t care much about these days! Yet the spirit with which she did it was anything but basic. Just like she wasn’t defined by her name, she can’t be defined by only what she did.
All of these things mixed together made me love Mrs. Schmuck. At the end of our last class, I cried.
Yes, if you looked up “Schmuck” in Kristen’s Dictionary of the English Language the definition would read something like this…
Schmuck: noun; a master teacher; a person who reflects the character of Christ through orderliness, care for others and pursuit of excellence and who inspires others to do the same
May the world have more Mrs. Schmucks, I say!