Editorial: Ode to an English teacher


My favorite teacher died last week. William Yachymiak was 73, and when I read his obituary, I never realized that when I was a 17 year-old junior in his creative writing class, he was just 36. Prematurely balding, Mr. Yach wore his straight brown hair in almost a Prince Valiant style with a part on the side and a long comb over, his tie slung over his right shoulder. But he was timeless to me, ageless in that it was what he represented that made me respect him as though he were 60 years old.

It was 1983. I was as untarnished and unrealistic as my mother’s silver in a brown paper bag. I was good at English, and that, coupled with a hatching dream of being a writer, led me to that creative writing class. The paucity of rules made it almost like a secret club where we were allowed to swear on the page if it made sense in the story, where our imaginations were allowed to scream across the page. My memory of lesson details is foggy at best, but I remember vividly how it felt to be in that class, that my sophomoric scribblings about running off to some island with my best friend were taken seriously. Everything I wrote in that class, Mr. Yachymiak took seriously. He spoke to me with respect, and kindness, and he encouraged me to keep writing.

Keep writing. In 1983, I did not know what I was going to be when I grew up. I knew I wanted to be a writer, but I had no clear idea of what that looked like, save for a outlandish fantasy of being featured on the cover of People magazine as the next great young literary wunderkind with a bestselling novel.

It took years of handwringing and false starts, alcohol drying up whatever creative juices wanted to flow, a convenient excuse to not write. I went to college for literature and writing, not journalism, but it found me. If I couldn’t write for myself, at least someone would pay me to write. I liked it, and here I am.

Still, whatever inherent ability I had to write the English language was nurtured and in Mr. Yachymiak’s creative writing class. Teachers can test you, improve you, enlighten you, and change you. Teachers have the power to alter your course, make you think, challenge your assumptions, and build you up. Members of every generation can name a teacher who affected them in some way.

If the COVID-19 pandemic has done anything, it’s shown us just how indispensible our teachers are and how invested they are in our kids. And had there been a pandemic in 1983, and my creative writing class had been taught remotely, I have no doubt that Mr. Yachymiak would have risen to the challenge. Protect our teachers, cherish them, listen to them, and honor them. They are the reason you have your community, your doctors, your plumbers, your innkeepers, dog trainers, accountants and newspaper editors.

Rest well, Mr. Yachymiak. Job well done. I owe you.

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