Continued from “One Person”
It was late January, we had all just come back from Christmas Break excited to share our personal stories with the group. But something was different.
Every morning I would come into school and go straight to the art room to drop off my portfolio and say hey to Mr. P, but today he wasn’t there. “Extending his vacation,” I thought. Went through the rest of the day like any other, until our afternoon AP class. Mrs. Adams, another art teacher, would be the sub that day, so the 6 of us came in and began to set up. AP Art was a class to work on personal projects at our own pace, around a concentrated subject. So stopping the entire group was a different tone to begin with, but then Mr. Pyanoe came in,.. and you could feel the weight on his chest, and something in my stomach had turned. This moment would change all of our lives forever.
Mr. Joe Pyanoe announced he was diagnosed with testicular cancer, he would need to start chemo treatment as soon as possible. A cold chill ran through my body, and you could see the fear in everyone’s eyes even though he tried to lighten the mood with a smile. Tears began to form in our eyes; we knew this was serious even though he kept insisting, “this is just for precaution.” I remember the art room and where I was sitting. I remember the room was quiet because no one knew what to say, this was superman, and we never thought anything could happen to him. ”Mrs. Adams will take over, until Spring Break and we’ll see where we’ll go from there.” I was happy that he felt close enough to share this information, but what about us? What about our art? I couldn’t do this without him. I enjoyed Mrs. Adams as a teacher, but she didn’t know my ‘style’ like he did, she didn’t inspire me to create. But I could make it until Spring Break, if it meant we could have him back.
With my stubborn attitude, or maybe I just didn’t want to admit what was happening, I didn’t go to Mrs. Adams for any criticism about my work during those months. “I could do this on my own,” I thought, but deep down I knew I couldn’t. I remember writing Mr. Pyanoe an email asking for help, and even in his deepest of treatment, we met twice a week (on his good days) to go over my work. And other days… I would take my portfolio to Mr. Swink, the head wrestling coach, and he would deliver it to P, and bring it back full of notes of what I need to improve. I don’t know if it was his notes, or just the reassurance he was there, that satisfied me.
As days came and went, it was finally Spring Break, but things weren’t looking good. He would still go in for more treatments, by now he had lost all his hair, he had lost all of his muscle, & was half the size he had once been. But it was Spring Break and we had promised to meet! I had a huge surprise for him. My mother and I met in the art room, and I was so anxious. Mr. Pyanoe had almost hand held me through the big process of college applications, and I had been accepted into 5 of 6 schools that I had applied too. But we were waiting on the big one. I walked in with the biggest smile and showed him that I had not only been accepted into Savannah College of Art and Design, but more than half of my tuition was covered in the art scholarship I had received! He was the first one I wanted to show, besides the immediate family. This was because of him, this is what we had worked 4 years on! It was that day that we sat and signed my acceptance!
Mr. Pyanoe would not return to us as a teacher of Colonial Forge, that senior year, but as a friend who showed up at our prom, and a mentor when he watched us all graduate. The 6 of us had done what every teacher dreams, we made it! He had completed our AP Class, we survived our senior art show, and we lived through graduation together as one family, and having him there had been an accomplishment to all of us. He was the one person that made it all happen.
It’s not the sorrow of this story that I want you to remember, but all the good times. I wish there was a Mr. Pyanoe for everyone to have in school. That one person who inspires you to be better, the one person who puts his students first, the one person who went above and beyond his calling. He had made his impact on life, he is an epic hero, that will be in my stories to come. I am a creative person because of him. It is now, through us, that we can create to inspire others around us.
Here are some stories from the ’6′ who also had great memories to share:
Danielle Thomas, Graphic Design- “My favorite memory of P was the one day I asked him if I could call him Joe. And he told me no. So I said what about Joey? And I kept calling him Joey, and he would get more and more angry. Haha, finally he told me he was 5 seconds away from writing me up. He was sooo angry.”
“Another one of my absolute favorites was when us girls went to visit him. We ate pizza and watched….of all movies…the Green Mile. Like we weren’t already sad. I remember him complaining about losing his hair. And we told him it was that bad, then he pulled out a chunk and was like REALLY!? It was hands down, the best time I had with all of us…or as you say “our little family.” We were hurting, but it was that day that really made me appreciate what we all had and how we grew closer. A bond with him that only we would understand.”
Kathryn Johnson, Education- “I loved staying after school for “art club”. I would often stay after school until 6 or 7 at night, eating pizza, painting, and hanging out with P. As a teacher now, I can’t believe how much he went the extra mile for us, staying late, letting us come in during his other classes, he did so much.”
Adrienne Ward, Political Science- “Some of my favorite memories also happened during my independent study that was just me and him. I remember times when I’d come in with a project and he’d put it up on the white board and we’d both just sit on the tables in front of the board and stare at it. We’d sit there in silence for 5, 10 minutes at a time. The greatest part was when he’d turn his head to the side and kind of half-smile when he did something he liked. And even when if it stunk, he always found something positive to say to start off his critique. He had a really great way of making you feel good about yourself while still helping you constantly improve and challenge yourself. Definitely the most inspiring teacher I’ve ever had.”
Me,… fine artist, graphic designer, photographer, my creative path is to “Evoke emotion”- Joe Pyanoe (written on one of his notes).
Please feel free to leave some of your favorite memories of Mr.P, as we all know and love. XO thanks for listening to my story.