Have You Thanked A Teacher Today?

I don’t mean your kids’ teacher, or your colleagues, although I’m sure that would be most appreciated.  I mean one of yours.

Whether we graduated 5 or 45 years ago, I imagine almost everyone who works in education has at least one teacher, coach, counselor, or some similar adult to thank for guiding them in this career direction.  You might have become a teacher because you were inspired by the way your 8th grade science teacher made difficult, abstract concepts easily accessible to you.  Conversely, you might have had such an awful educational experience growing up that you entered the profession to give other kids the kind of education you didn’t have. Whether or not you are a teacher, you’ve hopefully known at least one adult at school with whom you had a special bond, or who mentored you in a way that was above and beyond.

If reading this post has made you think about any of your old previous teachers, why not look them up and drop them a line?  Whether you send them an email or a regular old-timey letter, you know it will make their day (possibly even their year) to know that they had such a profound impact on at least one of their students.

I’ve done this with two of my teachers from high school so far.  Mrs. Clark was my Spanish teacher for three of my four years of high school, and senior year she tutored me after school in preparation for the AP Spanish test.  I was the only student in my school to take the test that year, so I really got 1:1 attention.  The morning of the exam, she brought me in a brown bag with snacks and goodies.  I was a good student, but could be a complete asshole somewhat inappropriate at times, and that Mrs. Clark did this, especially after how I had behaved in some of her classes, absolutely floored me.  I took for granted the after-school help, as many teenagers might, but this was a human gesture that, to my 17-year-old mind, was so incongruous with “school” that I was deeply touched (still am today), so much so that I was pretty wracked with guilt later that year when I learned that I scored a 1 on the AP test.

I also sent Mrs. Kencik, my AP English teacher, a letter.  I enjoyed her class and teaching style (one of the few teachers who encouraged us to write in our books and circle our desks up for conversation about literature), but one thing she said really stuck with me.  A bunch of us were making some snide remarks about “jocks” before class one day, and one of us brought up the point that actually, many of the kids on this team or that were in pretty high-level classes.  Mrs. Kencik turned to us and said, “And maybe that is the difference between a jock and an athlete.”  Again, just some run-of-the-mill stereotype addressing that teachers should do on a regular basis, but again, that phrase stuck with me, and I used it myself many times when I heard my students talking about “dumb jocks”.

A third teacher, Mrs. Porter, was absolutely instrumental in inspiring me to become a teacher, but I haven’t had to write her a letter because we stayed in touch after I graduated and she took a job at a different high school.  Three years after graduation, I student taught under her; a few years after that, I was her dialect coach on a drama club production of Drood, and we’ve kept in touch sporadically over the 14 years since I graduated high school.  In fact, she joined Facebook not too long ago, and, presumably inspired by the connections she was making with former students, hosted a get-together for a bunch of us at her house this past December.

By my count, I have at least one teacher left to write: Mrs. Burger, my fourth grade teacher and the teacher of the Gifted & Talented program in my school district, a pull-out program in which I spent much of  the following four years.  She helped make middle school bearable for me in a way that I don’t think I’ll be able to make her understand.

We have all sorts of wonderful tools for tracking down people from our past, folks.  How much time and effort would it take to Google that teacher, counselor, or coach who made a difference and send them a letter?

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