Pop Quiz: David Sedaris

The best-selling author and NPR humorist talks about great teachers and other American heroes.


by Gary Drevitch

Copyright © 2005 Scholastic Inc.

Scholastic INSTRUCTOR Magazine December 2005


What makes a great teacher?

A great teacher encourages you to think, and then nobly suffers the



Who was your best teacher?

Maybe it was Jewell Dean Love Sudduth, who taught tenth-grade English. I

was just a so-so student, but she went out of her way to make me feel

interesting. "Drop by anytime," she’d say, and I would. The poor thing.


Did you like to read as a child?

There was a series of biographies written for young people, and I think I

went through all of them: Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Ben Franklin. The

books had orange covers and each included a chapter in which the hero,

unknown and adolescent, sat around his family’s cabin, complaining about

his chores, which back then were formidable. "You’re not going anywhere

until you chop down that stand of mighty oaks," his parents would say.

"Until you plow that field. Until you pick that cotton and weave me a

bandana." Our hero would ask how come he had to do it, and his parents

would explain that it built character, which is what they all say when they

want you to do stuff for free.


What surprises you most when you visit schools?

I’m always shocked by how well-mannered everyone is. From watching the news

I expect the students to be horrible, but they’re always very polite and

interesting. Where’s this ritual sacrifice I’ve heard so much about?


What do you think is the biggest challenge for teachers today?

I would imagine it’s very hard to teach, say, "Hamlet," and convince the

students that Shakespeare may come in handy someday. He does, though, no

matter what you wind up doing.


What do you tell kids who want to grow up to be writers?

I tell them with complete conviction that if I can write books, anyone can.

They cannot, however, be as rich as me.