To my student

            It was close to my bedtime, and I was just reading a few updates on Facebook.  A little window popped up.  I had no idea that one could chat on Facebook, but apparently she did.  It was almost one in the morning on the east coast, but she was still at work, and she decided to reach out and touch someone.

            I had not heard from her much in recent years.  She has grown older.  She has a life filled with work and graduate school and all around making a difference.  She organizes conferences and advocates for women.  She is in business school now, for what specific aim I am unsure.  Like I said, I have not heard from her all that frequently in recent years.

            But, once upon a time, we meant a lot to each other.  She was in my first ninth grade English class.  I was a 23-year-old teacher, sure of myself but in way over my head with five classes and thirty kids to a class.  She was smart and hard working and nowhere near as grown-up as the other ninth-grade girls seem to be these days.  Mature, yes.  Grown-up?  Not as much.

            We spent fifty minutes together each school day, but we also spent hours together after school.  You see, she was a talented actress, possessing a stage presence that belied her young face and pleasing demeanor.  I cast her as the lead.  She rose to the challenge.

            She never asked for an extension on a paper, even if it was due two days before the play in which I was directing her.  She rarely earned a grade below A-, and I was not an easy teacher to get an A from.  She knocked my socks off, but she also taught me a lot about being a teacher.

            She gave me confidence that I could positively influence a young person.  She taught me that the things I said in a classroom mattered.  She encouraged me to care about my students.

            Mine was a one-year appointment, and even though the school offered to extend, I followed J to D.C. when he graduated.  I lost touch with most of those students over the years.  She and I remained in contact.  We talked a lot through her high school and college years, visiting now and then when I was back in Philly.  She came to my wedding.  She went to an excellent college.  Something terrible happened while she was there, but she rose above it.  She graduated and went on to own her life in a way a little girl from modest means is not supposed to.

            She would probably tell you that I made a huge difference in her life.  She is generous like that.  I will tell you that she has made a huge difference in mine.  I am no longer a teacher; I may never be one again or I may go back.  But she taught me that a teacher can do a lot for a young person, and the young person can return the favor. 

            That’s why my kids’ teachers will never get a scented candle or a coffee mug from me.  They will always get the respect they deserve, even if I disagree with them.  And I will support them by teaching my kids to treat them right.

            She told me the other night as we chatted on Facebook that she reads this blog every day.  I didn’t know because she never comments, but it doesn’t surprise me.  That’s the kind of support we have always shown each other, even if nowadays she’s too busy changing the world and I am too busy raising kids for us to be in touch very often.

            So, leave her a comment, if you would.  Or, write a note to a teacher who rocked your world once upon a time.  Or, say thank you to your child’s teacher when you drop him off at school.  Because together teachers and students are a beautiful thing.

14 responses to “To my student

  1. Good teachers are a treasure. They make a huge difference every day. I think it is awesome that she still keeps track of a teacher that was so important to her. I just saw one of my h.s. coaches this summer and reminded him of a few things that he said to me that I still remember and carry with me and even use in my own job.

  2. And this was a beautiful reminder of how important personal connections are. You were both lucky to have found each other all those years ago – what a lovely story.

  3. I had a teacher senior year of high school that meant the world to me. She was my debate and English teacher. She helped cultivate my love of writing and gave me confidance to stand before a class room, church or public forum. For graduation she gave me a copy of The Prophet – and it has never left my sight. It is one of those books I don’t even bother packing, it is always on top of the last bag I pack. I have since lost touch with Mrs. L, but have never forgotten her. Yours is a beautiful story – thanks for sharing. Sounds like you are both pretty lucky. 🙂

  4. As I prepare to return to the world of teaching, this story heartens me very much. Thanks, E.

  5. It’s that reciprocity that makes for magic in the classroom. It can’t just come from the teacher or just from the student, it only happens when both are engaged and passionate and enthusiastic. I don’t know how often it happens – I imagine there’s stony ground on both sides – but when it does it’s unforgettable.

  6. Dear Student of Em, I’m glad you’ve been able to share with your teacher what she meant to you and that we live in a world with blogs so you can keep up with her life.

    I’m also glad you had such a wonderful teacher. I know there were a few high school teachers who made a significant impact on my life–although I was not the best student, they tried and they cared.

  7. This is a really fantastic post. You sound like an amazing teacher, and she an amazing woman. How wonderful that you found each other and have stayed in touch all these years.

  8. I am really happy that you were able to reconnect. When there is a bond like that, it’s definitely worth keeping up. 🙂


  9. the only teacher who ever believed in me, Mrs Williams, encouraged me to write. I would be dead without that gift.

  10. You are almost right about the part that I ” will tell people that you made a huge difference in my life. ” The verb tense is wrong though– It’s “you make a huge difference in my life. ”
    See, I had a really good English teacher.

  11. Ah, this is just what can make teaching so difficult and SO magical all at once. As a teacher, you rarely get instant feedback. OK, you know when a class discussion has been rocking, when the kids are engaged, when they are asking the questions, just as you know if a lesson bombs. OK, you can look at your kids’ scores or grades, and sometimes, just maybe sometimes, you will receive outright feedback from them. However, most of the time as a teacher, I prepared lessons, I tried to engage with kids, I poured over essays, etc without ever truly knowing just what they were learning, absorbing, remembering. It is such a gift to reconnect with former students who take a moment to share what impact, however tiny, I as a teacher may have had on them. It is a gift to all teachers who get to hear this.

    SO here’s to PQ– one of the people I admire most in this world and an amazing English teacher and mentor.

    And here’s to Facebook as well– who just recently reconnected me to my last crew of sixth graders from NYC. This week, many of them head off to their first years of college, and it absolutely blows me away to think of a few of them, and the times we spent cleaning out their backpacks over and over to help them get organized, as first-year students at Holy Cross and Cornell and a myriad of other colleges and universities who are lucky enough to count them as students. Here’s to De La Salle Academy in NYC– certainly one of the most magical schools I have ever witnessed, an alternative independent middle school for bright kids from low-income backgrounds, with an incredible academic and social curriculum.

    You can tell this post touches me deeply.

  12. “That’s why my kids’ teachers will never get a scented candle or a coffee mug from me. They will always get the respect they deserve, even if I disagree with them. And I will support them by teaching my kids to treat them right.”

    well said

  13. This is touching. There are several teachers through the course of my life that touched me in this way… I am off to write a note to each of them.

    Thanks for the inspiration – I often wondered whether it would be “strange” to contact them after all these years.

  14. You know, I don’t alway read you, purely because I don’t have much time (isn’t that true for all of us). But when I do, I am always moved, if not by your sheer eloquence, then certainly by your sentiment.

    This post brought a lump to my throat. Thank you.

    I moved around a lot as a kid (6 different elementary schools!) and never, ever kept in touch with my teachers. I assumed I was ‘just another kid’ to them and felt pretty much more like a bother than anything else. Thank you for an alternative perspective.

    What a precious gift you and your student gave – and continue to give – to each other.