The Priority List,
by David Menasche (Allen & Unwin, RRP $35):
The word “inspirational” is often bandied about when it comes to biographies of the famous and wealthy, but this story of a teacher who simply wanted to carry on doing what he loved best is one of the few times “inspirational” is the appropriate description.
David Menasche was a high school English teacher in Miami who managed to form a bond with many of his pupils that lasted beyond their school years.
The story behind the title of this book comes from a method the author used to give relevance to the works of Shakespeare for his pupils: when they were having trouble relating to Othello., he came up with a list of words that applies to us all (honour, love, wealth, power, career, respect) and had his pupils rank them according to the importance they might have had for Othello.
The list grew over the years to include other ideas and because part of his standard teaching plan. Not only did the list allow them to more readily connect with the characters in the books they were reading, but it also made the teens consider their own priorities.
The author was diagnosed with brain cancer at the age of 34 and that prompted him to write his own priority list. Friendship and education were top of his list, and that love of teaching was undoubtedly what kept him going during the often brutal battle for survival that followed: Six years after his diagnosis and 15 years into his teaching career, Menasche had endured surgery, chemotherapy and 30 rounds of radiation.
But teaching was still his first love and nothing was going to stop him from taking his place in the classroom. That was until he suffered a massive seizure that damaged his vision, his mobility and even his memories.
It was then, that Menasche decided to teach in a different way – to make life his classroom.
He stopped treatment and embarked on a cross-country journey that would probably be exhausting even for the able- bodied. Taking to Facebook, Menasche used the power of social media to put out the word. He planned a journey across the United States to see first-hand how his pupils were getting on in life, to see if he had made a difference. Who was interested?
Within two days he was inundated with offers of support and shelter from more than 50 cities. Yes, he had made a difference and his former pupils were keen to show him that.