Teachers are immortal

I never called her Vivi. I called her “Profesora”. The respectful title we used to address teachers at high school in Argentina in 1970’s and 1980’s. We sometimes called her “Profe” which was much less formal. I sat six rows back, three rows to the right in an often cold, damp, but clean classroom with two large blackboards on the front. On sunny days, you could see the constellation of chalk dust flying through the air, as the sun rays inundated the room from the windows.

Viviana Coppolillo was one of my high school teachers. She taught Spanish & Literature, but the classes that marked me for life happened outside the normal schedule. She organized and run a drama workshop after school hours. And I took them every year I could. I don’t know how it started, or what led me to. But I feel fortunate of having done them.

These are one of those things that have left a long impression on me. Some of the scripts of those short plays are still in my memory, and I can recite them from beginning to end, more than 30 years later.

Viviana taught me how to express myself, how to be funnily serious, and seriously funny. How to weave stories from small, disconnected threads. How to improvise. How to unleash a self I didn’t know existed before. Today, I’m sometimes told I’m a “story teller”. I like to think I owe that to Viviana.

From her, I also learnt to love books, stories and travel. I learnt each book is a door and a window into entire worlds: real ones and fiction. I learnt that they have the power of setting you free.

I never reconnected with her after I left school in the late 80’s. Many years later, I learnt she was no longer with us. And I felt a terrible sense of loss when this happened. I miss the conversations we never had. And cherish those that we did. Being a teacher must be one of the most fulfilling jobs. Great teachers become immortal through their work, as their influence, advice, teachings continue to live on on their students. Viviana was a great teacher.

Serendipitously, I learnt that her daughter Magdalena, whom I’ve never met in person, published a book with a selection of her poems and short stories.

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I contacted Magdalena and after a long, adventurous trip, a copy of the book is now lying on my desk where I’m writing this. Once again I can enjoy her beautifully crafted words. Once again, I can hear her voice coming from the ink on the neat pages of her posthumous printed sentences.

Thanks Magdalena, and thanks Viviana.

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