Karen Morehouse has taught English at Huntington Beach High School for nearly 40 years. In a room overlooking the main street of a southern California town she works magic, imbuing lessons in Shakespeare and grammar and the five-paragraph essay with compassion and infectious enthusiasm.
She gets the quiet ones to talk, the loud ones to listen, and identifies those with more to say than they know how to express. Former students embrace her when they see her in the street. She is an outstanding teacher, in every definition of the term.
Mrs. Morehouse was my freshman and sophomore English teacher at HBHS, a century-old public high school of more than 2,000 students in a middle-class beach town. She once gave our class a handwritten Christmas poem containing a personalized tribute to each student. Now that I am an adult she insists I call her Karen, which I do, but not easily, and never in my head. I write for a living in no small part because Mrs. Morehouse understood how to encourage an awkward and self-doubting teenager to love the written word.
Our obsession with quantifying the results of education overlooks the best of what good teachers do. They gift you sight -- the ability to spot meaning, connections or beauty in an otherwise chaotic world. They hand you a treasure map to a thing you didn't even know you desperately needed, a subject or craft whose discovery changes the way you see your place in the world.
They arm you with lifelong antidotes to boredom, to loneliness; they unlock the parts of the mind that contain multitudes. They give you things that can't be taken away.
Mrs. Morehouse has two children. On June 1, a driver struck the motorcycle that her daughter Kelly Blue was riding with her boyfriend. Kelly died at the hospital. She was 25.
The knowledge that a kind family must bear that sort of grief is not something that can be lived with comfortably. It's like a rock lodged in a shoe, a lump in the back of the throat. How unjust it is that someone who gave so generously to other people's children should have to mourn one of her own.
Like her mother and father, who together have taught a combined 75 years at Huntington Beach High School, Kelly planned to be a teacher. A scholarship fund has been established in her memory for a graduating senior at HBHS who wants to become a teacher and needs financial assistance to help him or her achieve that goal.
You may have been a student in Mrs. Morehouse's class; you may have been shaped by other, equally gifted mentors. But if there was a teacher who stepped into your life and remapped your future for the better, then as a measure of gratitude perhaps you might consider contributing to this memorial to a beautiful and bright young woman.
We need help to make sense of senseless loss. We need people who can show us beauty and order and possibility when we can't find it ourselves. We need teachers. For what better defense is there, against a world that takes too much, than to seed an army of people who give what can never be stolen away?