THE BLOG

When a Teacher Opens Worlds

19/09/2014 12:34 BST | Updated 15/11/2014 10:59 GMT

I had not heard Ms. Slattery's voice for 25 years.

But when I did again, and when I saw her, I was transported.

The boy in me that had been transfixed, rapt in attention at her stories, was suddenly summoned.

I tried - though insufficiently - to explain to her what a profound influence her storytelling was and how it fired my imagination and left me often with the sensation of flight - of exploration across all the boundaries of space and time that children so eagerly and easily traverse.

As a student I find it difficult to adequately express my gratitude towards my teachers.

No matter how much I try I simply can't convey the enormity of meaning, nourishment and sheer joy that their teaching has provided.

Whatever words I say only scrape the surface of the depths of their impact on me; the extent to which they have influenced and inspired me; the doors of perception, appreciation, and understanding they have opened.

I had thought about Ms. Slattery frequently all these years.

I had thought about her gift for storytelling; how I waited once a week for her class in which she would take us across time and space, fantasy and reality, to the world of Greek myths, of gods and goddesses, their loves and longings, creativity and destructiveness, thwarted ambitions, rages and reconciliations.

Our class always took place in the library, and was the highlight of the week for me. Lining up to head down to the library signaled the beginning of an adventure; departure from the mundane and entry into a world of infinite possibility.

But more than thinking about her and about fond memories I lived the legacy of great teaching; I felt what she had taught me, I carried it with me.

I held on to her gentle voice, her compassionate manner, the grace and dignity which she brought to teaching and sharing with children and always with sensitivity and astute perceptiveness as how to reach a child's heart and mind.

There was something so calm and centering about her; a reassuring and soft-spoken presence.

Her stories were an anchor for my spirit; they left me forever beguiled.

Once enchanted, thankfully, nothing could ever lift the spell.

From Ms. Slattery I Iearned about Athena and Aphrodite, Zeus and Poseidon, Deadelus and Icarus.

I learned moral fables, human psychology, ugliness and beauty, ignorance and wisdom, folly and fortune.

All these years the Greek Gods and goddesses remained lively symbols for me - vastly enriching my sense of humanity and appreciation for the diversity of life in all its permutations and possibility.

Wisdom incarnated in Athena was so much more memorable to me than as an abstract subject. When I think of the ideal of wisdom I immediately associate it with her.

When I travelled to Cyprus a few years ago a friend of mine laughed good naturedly at the extent to which the Greek myths animated me.

I wanted to see the frothy part of the sea where Aphrodite - goddess of love - was said in legends to have been born. And as I went hiking and exploring I sought out every site of significance to the world of Greek gods and mythology I could find.

She saw in my enthusiasm a certain child-likeness and she was right; though I always knew that they are not literal beings and only symbolic representations they always felt intensely real to me because of Ms. Slattery's vivid storytelling.

And when I visited Greece and saw the Acropolis, the Temple of Athena, it was all so much more than a tourist's delight. It was a rendezvous with my past and with the power of stories to transcend space and time, culture and individual.

Ms. Slattery had provided me as an adult the link back to my childlikeness.

I still feel the same excitement today, the same boyish enthusiasm when I think about the Greek Gods and visit their temples.

I still feel like the little boy who watched Ms Slattery move her delicate felt pieces that represented the gods and goddesses and other characters across the board which narrated these myths and many others from different cultures and traditions.

I still see Daedalus and Icarus, and Icarus, his wings melting as he flew too close to the sun and Ms. Slattery's hand showed him falling down slowly to the bottom of the board and back into the box that contained all her felt pieces that were the stuff of these stories, the humble place where myths and legends were born.

I remember feeling sadness at the death of Icarus, and the way in which that sadness linked to the realization of the destructive nature of arrogance.

I never forgot the Minotaur and Theseus and when I saw Ms. Slattery 25 years later though I forgot the details of the story I remembered something about a labyrinth - and the challenges of finding one's way out of a labyrinth.

All these stories had and have such psychological, ethical, and spiritual richness to them - and still do for me.

Ms. Slattery taught us about Greek history and culture through these myths, about Greek art and architecture and design - all lessons that remained with me and inspired my interests as I grew older.

I remember my search for a book of Greek myths because I had become so enamored of them in class I wanted to recreate my once weekly moments of storytelling rapture on my own and with even greater frequency. The book had a blue cover on it and was beautifully illustrated; when I found it I devoured it and clung to it like treasure.

I was naturally drawn to books, to losing myself in reading. But Ms. Slattery is responsible for nurturing this tendency, for helping me find books that interested me and for teaching me that the library is a temple - containing not only the Greek Gods and myths but all the heritage of humanity, its stories and symbols, past and present, histories and aspirations.

She was its gatekeeper and a kind, friendly, generous and ever reliable and knowledgeable guide and companion to its wonders.

What inspired me as a student, what fueled my curiosity and my love of learning and of stories was Ms. Slattery and her felt pieces and the places she took me to as a boy during one hour, once a week, in the library of my elementary school.

How I miss that hour and the gateway it was.

Because of her and her stories as that boy grew up and was able to visit the lands of these myths, to study these stories, to try to live out some of the lessons learned, he, I, remains rapt with attention, enchanted, and grateful beyond words.