At 1:45, the bell rings. In a crazed rush, all my students pour out the door. They have football practice, girlfriends and boyfriends they want to see, robotics club—truly, the world is their oyster. I get it, I was young once. 

    Yet, one student stays seated. Young Jonah is one of my best writers.

    I asked him, “why are you still here?”

    “Where else is there to go?”

    He explains that he’s a total failure, that he isn’t welcome anywhere, not that there’s any place he’d like to be anyway. Instantly, I recognized his serious depression and need for a trusted adult and mentor. It’s a shame not everyone has someone like Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society, but luckily Jonah does. And it’s me. I’m his Robin Williams. I handed him The Catcher in the Rye, the tale of a young man who really knows how to show himself a good time. What better a source of inspiration could there be? I gave Jonah my personal copy, a pat on the back, and sent him on his (surely merry) way. 

    Truly, there is no problem literature cannot solve. Doctors prescribe just the right medication, and I prescribe books. And as a teacher—one of America’s heroes—I’m always on call. 

When Susan’s mother died, she took it hard. And as cliche as it sounds, her loss hurt me even more than it hurt her, so I knew I had to do something. As I Lay Dying is a tale of ultimate sacrifice, but more importantly, redemption. Faulkner comforts us with the knowledge that when one door closes, another one opens. Sure, you lost a beloved relative, but when you think about it, she was just a fish. I gave young Susan my personal copy and sent her out into the world.

Tomaso, the captain of the football team, drove drunk into a tree. He was fine, but his quarterback, who was in the passenger seat, died instantly in the crash. Tomaso felt that it was his fault and quit football forever, feeling totally crippled by guilt. I know he wouldn’t want to talk to his lame English teacher, but maybe, just maybe, he’d talk to the page. I gave him my personal copy of Crime and Punishment and sent him out the door. And the list goes on—hate your job? Death of a Salesman. Fear of grapes? Grapes of Wrath! Not sure whether to catch 21 or 22 baseballs at practice? Catch 22. Can’t think of a very hot temperature? Fahrenheit 451. Want to read the Bible? The Bible! Want to eventually read the Bible, but start with something small? Lord of the Flies. I am the House M.D. of diagnosing emotions. I’m an English teacher. I save lives.

—S. Leone

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