In a final farewell post. soon-to-be graduating student and retiring Words Matter sub-editor Charlotte Stevenson reflects on her undergraduate programme and says goodbye to all the teachers who have taught her.
Of few things I am certain but of one I know there can be no denial; good teachers are few and rare.
Those that come into our lives do so for a reason and when they do should not be taken for granted. They are the ones that always uncover and present what lies in the gaps an author left with as much enthusiasm as if they too were only just discovering them. They are the ones who make the strangest limericks and songs to retain what has been taught which end up being the easiest to remember. And most importantly, they are the ones who see the potential in those they teach, individuals who will never fully see or comprehend how every class is designed to feed their mind and help them grow.
I have had the privilege over the past three years at York St. John to know the most wonderful teachers I could have asked for. Of all the words I know, none encapsulate the level of gratitude I have for the lessons they have each provided me. Because of them, I know now not only how to time travel back to the New York City of the 1950s of my dissertation but also how to access T. S. Eliot’s London anytime I should want to and where to find Tennessee Williams’ loneliest and most hopeful streetcar. I’ve known too the most exquisite and problematic Paris, dystopian Shakespearean theatre troops and a rather peculiar British boat journey with far too much unrefrigerated cheese.
In moving to Amsterdam for half a year with the Erasmus scheme and the travelling that ensued as a result I have found my eyes opened to the marvellous histories of the wider world. The result of this has been a further thirst to learn; an opportunity to become intoxicated by visiting new places and finding myself outside of my comfort zone. Some of the teachers I encountered there, especially those who taught my Dutch history and history of biography classes, inspired me greatly to try new things in my writing and to view my own language in an entirely new way. The power of words never held greater value for me than before this chance to look out at even the familiar differently.
And personally, with my mental health and the difficulties it has introduced me too, I was fortunate to be surrounded by the literature team at York St. John who were never hesitant to help me in my learning. No matter how hard or troublesome things might have been, every teacher I had was more than happy to help me get back on track and maintain the work that meant so much to me. Without their kindness and assistance, I would never have been able to achieve a dissertation that received First-Class marks. Seeing that grade and reading the feedback provided with it made me more aware than ever that our weaknesses often become our strengths in the lessons they teach us. My degree and the classes taught within it have incorporated not solely how to gain academic excellence but how to become a better person and in turn, how to be a teacher to others; how to set an example of what it means to always seek the best in ourselves and in others.
In my lifetime I have and will live a thousand extraordinary lives through reading, but despite these wonderful adventures I would never trade places with any Salinger, Shakespeare or Woolf for my time at York St. John. This time and the lessons encompassed by it are some of the best gifts I have ever received and ones I know I’ll never return but instead only ever pass on. Life will go on from my final upcoming assignment submissions, but from here I will carry forward the knowledge imparted that to write is an act of self-government with which there is the possibility to pave new roads forward and to change the world. I have the power to construct a yellow brick road to any place I choose and the vocabulary to articulate that just because this is the way things are and the way they have always been, that does not have to remain the case forever for there is always room for creativity and improvement.
To all of the teachers who have taught me, thank-you for being brilliant, patient and kind in equal measure; a blend I do not think can be bested. I wish each of you all the very best for the future and hope you have a peaceful summer.
All the best,