We’ve all had teachers in our lives that have been exceptional. Most of us can name at least one teacher that even changed our lives. I am pretty lucky though, and can name several. However, there are three in particular that have helped me in ways they don’t even know and have contributed in more ways than one to the woman I am today and the woman I will be in the future. Each of these teachers taught English. And I’m convinced this wasn’t just a coincidence.
In the tenth grade, I walked into my English class, which happened to be in the most unique classroom in the whole school. It was set up like an amphitheater with students’ desks lining each step and the teacher’s desk and materials at the bottom. The atmosphere in the room never felt quite like a standard classroom simply due to its set up and I would quickly learn that the room matched the creative freedom we expressed in class and the unique teaching style of the teacher.
Standing in front of us on the first day of school, our teacher, with brown hair to her shoulders, big blue eyes and an air of confidence that was hard to ignore, immediately proved that she was not going to be any ordinary English teacher. Instead of the usual time spent going over the syllabus and classroom rules, we discussed the difference between the words “pee,” “piss,” and “urinate” to prove the point that authors choose their words carefully because although each of these words essentially mean the same thing, they each bring a certain number of ideas with them and would not be used in every situation. It was diction, and it’s something I pay very close attention to now, in my own writing and in others’.
I immediately felt safe in her classroom and she let me stay there during lunch periods when it was empty instead of making me sit in the cafeteria. I took advantage of this time to enjoy the quiet and read. As the year continued, she opened my mind up to so many different things. Different authors, different music, different creative arts. For the first time, I was being exposed to the English Language Arts in a way I hadn’t before and I was loving it. We spent time in class discussing pieces of work in what she called “hippie circles,” wrote satires and made soundtracks to “A Tale of Two Cities”.
By December, my dad had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and since I wanted my teachers to know what was going on, I told her. We stood with a table between us and I remember feeling like someone finally understood. She didn’t rush me to tell my story or try and wrap the conversation up so she could go to her office. She took the time to actually talk to me about it and see how I felt. We had connected before, but this bonded us permanently. When I needed to talk to someone I knew I could go to her. Even after her class I continued to confide in her, ask her advice, and felt supported by her in more ways than one. I saw so much in her that I wanted to emulate in my life and I still look up to her now as a version of the woman I hope to one day become.
The following year, I walked into my English class with a bundle of nerves in my stomach. The year before I had heard rumors of this teacher that were enough to keep some kids from even taking his class. He had become like a mythical creature that the upperclassmen would talk about. He was tall and lanky, bald (by choice; I later observed that he could grow hair if he wanted) with a huge reddish beard covering his face (I’m convinced that if he shaved it I wouldn’t recognize him) with the most serious look on his face. I heard of angry letters he wrote to his students when they didn’t do their best work (which looking back, is not scary at all but rather shows how much he cared about his students). But although I was worried, I was up for the challenge. I knew his class would test me as a writer and that’s exactly what I wanted. I wanted to leave his class in June knowing that I had become a better writer than when I started in September. That was all.
I never intended however, on developing another close friendship with an English teacher. This year was particularly difficult as it was the last year my dad would be alive (although I obviously didn’t know it then) and since I believed in keeping my teachers’ aware of my current situation at home I had told him as well. One day, I stayed after school to go over a paper revision (as it turned out, he totally would kick my butt as a writer, which I’m very thankful for). When we finished talking about the paper though, he simply asked how things were. It was the first time that year that someone had asked me how I was doing and I saw that he truly cared. I saw that he could be another person I could confide in.
At a time when my own dad could barely take an interest in me since he was just trying to survive, this teacher stepped in as an almost surrogate father, just by being there to talk, sometimes for hours after school on a Friday afternoon. Like my English teacher from the year before, I never felt like I was imposing on his time or that I was holding him up. He always made me feel like I was important and that whatever I had to say was worth the time he took to listen. He made me feel like my story was important to tell and I knew that he cared about the ending. Just like my teacher from the year before, I continued to confide in him throughout the rest of high school and after. I had developed two supportive relationships with teachers who shared the same office.
So by my senior year, I didn’t think I would hit gold a third time with my English teacher, but I was wrong. From the first day of class, I knew she would understand. In a skirt and cozy sweater, her dirty blonde hair barely touching her shoulders, her personality filled the room. It was obvious that she LOVED what she was teaching. Her face would light up as she listened to our opinions on the books we read and she always encouraged us in every way possible. She felt like a mother in the way that she cared for us and our well-being. And since my world had totally shifted after my dad passed away that summer, I knew that it would be important to tell this teacher what I was going through from the start.
And to my surprise, I found yet another teacher who cared to listen to my story and wanted to be there for me. She shared her stories with me and helped me feel less alone, less isolated and like there would always be a shoulder for me to lean on. Even her class projects helped me cope with the loss of my father. Each marking period we had a creative assignment that was intended to help us reflect on our lives in some way. The first project was about something we would always carry with us throughout our lives. I wrote about my dad’s glasses. The second was to take photographs from our past and write the story behind each picture. I wrote about defining moments in my life. And the third was a book of our own poems. These showed the future I hoped to one day have. And even after graduating, she continued to e-mail me, help me with college applications, and go out to dinner to catch up on everything that was going on in my life.
I don’t think the magic of having each of these teachers in sequence could ever be recaptured. I don’t know what brought them all to my high school, to teach the classes they did, but I can’t help but think it was some sort of fate. Academically, my first teacher opened up my mind to new ways of thinking. My second teacher stuffed my brain with information. And my third wrapped it all up with a beautiful ribbon. But the things they taught me outside of the classroom are what have truly shaped me as a person and have had far-reaching effects on my life.
I’m still in touch with each of them and I hope to have them in my life for a very long time. I could write so much more about these three individuals (and I very well may in future posts). I hope that by taking the time to acknowledge their greatness and their influence in my life they will know how much they change the lives of students who probably don’t voice their gratitude. I encourage everyone reading this to think of that one teacher (or many!) who helped shape your life and send them a silent thanks (or a real thanks, if you can!). This is my way of thanking those that helped shape mine.