March 1998

Remarkable Teachers

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Anne Murray’s

Remarkable Teachers

Catherine Ward," says Anne Murray, the second she’s asked to name her remarkable teacher. "She taught me geometry and history in Grade 10 in Springhill, Nova Scotia," continues Murray, on the phone from somewhere in the United States, where she is on tour.

"She would go from one side of the room all the way around on the board, and she would write and draw little diagrams. You’d be totally and completely enthralled by the way she did it. She would just suck you right in. It’s like a good performance, a good acting performance.

"And the geometry was so simple for me because of the way she presented it. The lightbulbs were constantly coming on. You’d go ‘oh, yeah!’ and if you had the least question, you’d ask her and she’d enlighten you so quickly."

Murray considered herself lucky that she had Ward for both history and geometry that year. Murray used to get perfect marks in geometry and won the history prize.

She’s sure Ward would have been an excellent teacher no matter what the subject. "The school did not have a geometry teacher, and she was, I think, an English major and learned something about geometry that summer, before she taught us. I just loved geometry, and thereafter I had problems because I didn’t have her any more."

Years later, at a school reunion, Murray gathered her courage and went up to Ward to tell her, "You’re the best teacher I ever had." But Catherine Ward was shy and reluctant to accept praise. She told Murray it was "the wine talking."

"I’m sure if you told Catherine Ward she was a good performer she would be aghast," says Murray, "yet she came to life in the classroom in a quiet way."

Murray’s second remarkable teacher was the opposite of Ward in personality. The flamboyant and eccentric Lillian Matthews "made English literature live and English grammar live" for Murray in Grades 10 and 11.

Murray has always been interested in English and loved grammar. Murray’s parents were sticklers about grammar, a trait Murray either inherited or learned. She now corrects her kids. "And they try to aggravate me by saying it wrong," she says, just like she used to do to her parents.

Murray remembers some of Matthews’s actual grammar lessons, certainly more than enough to help her daughter with her OAC work. "I still correct people, and my daughter tells me I’m not going to have anybody to hang out with," Murray laughs.

An avid golfer and former physical education teacher, Murray wants to know, "Why is it that golfers ‘play good’? They say it on television. Basketball players play well. Baseball players play well. But golfers ‘play good.’ That drives me crazy."

One can imagine Lillian Matthews nodding approval.