Saturday, August 9, 2008

Farewell to an Honorable Colleague

Judy Harris didn't like ceremony. She was much more comfortable with a Super Soaker and sarcasm, crouching behind her classroom door and ambushing a student who didn't have his homework, or couldn't find his place in the assigned reading.

The venerable English teacher died last week in Northern Virginia. Today at a memorial service hundreds flocked to memorialize Judy, her love for her students, and her love for the English language.

Judy taught 10th-graders. She was a self-proclaimed "Grammar Nazi." She knew that the comma and the period, because they were singular and "lonely," went inside the quotation marks, while colon and its cousin, the semi-colon, had "friends" and could stand alone outside the quote.

Judy did not suffer fools easily. She called a spade a spade, and detested the cliches I'm using in this sentence. She was sharp, she was sly, she was cool.

"Mrs. Harris dedicated herself to teaching English and especially expository writing," her obit read. "A generation of West Springfield High School students benefited from her tireless devotion to her calling." The black print on gray newsprint reported a fact that translated to heartfelt dedication in Judy's classroom.

One of Judy's former students, now a graduate student and a married woman, brought her high school style manual to Judy's memorial service today, because she though Mrs. Harris would find it a fitting gesture. After 10th-grade English in Judy's class, "I also took Mrs. Harris'sAdvanced Comp class and was then offered the prestigious position of being teaching assistant for a year," the former student said. "Having her accept me back into her classroom for a 3rd year was among the highest honors! Through her teaching, she had a profound impact on me... I still laugh when I tell colleagues and friends about my wacky high school English teacher who graded our papers in red felt-tip pen so they'd look like they were bleeding after a massacre if they were poorly written!"

Judy Harris was a pro. She was the best. We will miss her. Declarative sentences, all.


Amy said...


There were, perhaps, some of us who went to the school parking lot after the service and had a Super Soaking battle under her old window. And perhaps went to the bench on the side of the building and read from Julius Caeser. It felt like the right thing to do...

Melissa B. said...

Way to go, Ames! Did Allie Nelson have her style manual with her?

Veggie Mom said...

What a lovely tribute to a treasured friend! She must have been very special to you.

dkzody said...

Sounds like someone we need to clone.

Tara R. said...

Beautiful tribute to someone who sounds like both a tremendous teacher and a tremendous person. Nicely done.

melissa said...

my husband is a high school english teach. i hope that, one day, he is remembered like that!! that was beautiful!!

Mimi aka pz5wjj said...

Everyone needs a teacher like that.

Vodka Mom said...

my heart is aching for the school community and her family.

None of us gets out alive, do we?


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