There’s no word in the language I revere more than ‘teacher.’ My heart sings when a kid refers to me as his teacher, and it always has. I’ve honored myself and the entire family of man by becoming a teacher.
This upcoming week, I am quite certain that I will not be the only one to invoke Pat Conroy’s Prince of Tides. All over America, during Teacher Appreciation Week teachers and their craft are honored with public fanfare and the more personal gestures as well. It’s the time of year when some teachers are counting down the days until school’s out for summer, and then others are figuring out how to make every instructional minute matter until the final bell rings on the last day of school. Cards and hand-written letters of gratitude will be saved in shoeboxes and reopened over the years, lasting reminders of what Henry Adams said about a teacher’s effect on eternity. “He can never tell where his influence stops.”
I have been reminded of this twice in the past few days. On Tuesday, I encountered a young woman who will be opening her own school next year – I first met her when she was one of my sixth grade students at the beginning of my career as a teacher in America.
Then again, last evening . . .
While sorting through papers, de-cluttering and discarding, I found folded in four between a hand-made card and a reference from my first principal, a letter from a former student. I am ashamed to say I do not remember the woman who took the time to explain in writing her decision to withdraw from my Introduction to World Literature class, nor do I recall how I received her letter. Had she turned it in with an assignment? I don’t know. I don’t even know her full name. It appears that in her effort to explain herself on just one side of the note-book paper, she had to tightly position in the bottom right hand corner her signature – diminutive and different from the great loops of flowing cursive that had preceded it. A first name, ‘Carol,’ but a surname that remains a mystery. By some strange twist that can only happen in real life, perhaps Carol will stumble upon this blog and find the letter she wrote thirteen years ago, then and forever a tribute to teaching:” 9.17.1999 Dear Ms. W. I wanted to write you a note to tell you how very much I have enjoyed your class. You are a delight and a terrific teacher. We have just learned that my mom has cancer, and it is in the brain, lung, and bones. We don’t have much time, and I need every minute I have to be with her. I remember you saying that your mom is your best friend – it is the same with me – and I hardly know how I can get through life without her. I wanted you to know also, that because her eyesight has been going – and she has always been an avid reader (and all the zillions of stories she read to us . . . do you know of the poem, “You may have riches and gold – but I had a mother that read to me . . . “?) She has been so frustrated not being able to read – so I have been reading to her – I read her “My Oedipus Complex,” and oh, how we giggled – I told her that I wish she could have heard you read it, with that slight, but wonderful Irish accent! So I was especially glad to have O’Connor’s other story – “First Confession” that you handed out. We call them his “little boy stories” – and it has brouth her smiles. The Oedpius Complex was especially wonderful, because my father was a pilot in the Army, and was in Korea and WWII so – she with 3 boys (and 2 girls) could certain relate to ‘Daddy’ coming home and the competition for her attention. Isn’t it strange – I bet you don’t think about the ways you touch other lives – but you have added something beautiful to ours, when we most needed it. I will in time retake this course – so I will be looking for YOUR class. Thank you, Carol F.
“Please read the letter that I wrote . . .”