Let me preface this by stating that my high school experience was of the mundane variety. I had some good friends, a small number of which I still consider my best friends today. I went to football games and basketball games, but I didn’t live and die for the green wave. I made good grades, respected my teachers, walked the line, and I did everything I was supposed to do. And honestly, I don’t think or care about high school too much.
While the details of what exactly made up my humdrum experience are fuzzy, there is one aspect of my life at that school that is not. And his name is Greg Fish. Mr. Fish was my yearbook staff advisor, my 10th grade American Lit teacher, and my AP Literature teacher. He was all of those things while also acting as a mentor, a role model, and a friend.
Fish taught me how to write well and how to think critically. He taught me to love words: how to pay attention to them, and how to use them effectively. His class was more than just a class to me; he taught me how to think about and question the status quo in ways I had never known how to before, and he is certainly one of the reasons I chose to major in English in college.
Where I grew up, creativity is not exactly encouraged. What is encouraged is fitting in — doing what you’re supposed to do. Don’t ask questions. Don’t wonder why things are the way they are. Don’t be too loud. Don’t be too different. Don’t question authority.
Yet, Fish wasn’t phased by any of that.
In a small, one-high-school-town in South Carolina, he taught me how to speak with conviction. He taught me how to be inquisitive about the world outside of Pickens County. I could go on and on about how much he taught me over three years, but I still don’t think it would do him justice.
It wouldn’t do him justice because this isn’t just about how great of a teacher I thought Fish was. It’s about all of his students from the past and present; because every kid who ever walked into his classroom walked out a little less apathetic, a little more confident, a little more observant, and a little bolder.
He wanted his students to look inward and find out who we were — beyond the expectations of others. He taught us to learn on our own terms. He encouraged his students not to fear making mistakes; he taught us how to jump off of cliffs and believe in ourselves.
I would like to write about how censorship oppresses freedom of expression, how it perpetuates ignorance and plants the seeds of hate, about how its role in the education system is a senseless contradiction… but that’s not my goal here. My goal in writing this is simply to support Fish, and to thank him for teaching his students challenging content: content that requires more of them then just nodding “yes, sir” as they copy their notes — content that stimulates analysis, discussion, and real life learning.
And let me just say, from the girl who didn’t speak up much back then, who didn’t make waves, who quietly existed at Easley High, he was the best thing to ever FUCKING happen to that school.