If you can read this, thank a teacher

2 Sep

I picked up my youngest Monday after his first day of the 11th grade, and, after much grilling about his day, managed to penetrate the layer of, “It was okay,” down to a second layer, which was, “We didn’t do much,” to uncover that hidden bit of substance. He turned to me and said—

(Hold on. I need a moment. Still reeling over the phrase, “First day of the 11th grade.” How the heck did that happen? Deep breath…Okay, I think I can continue.)

—So he turned to me and said, “I like all my teachers.”

And just like that, I knew what I have to write this week. Imagine, all over the country teachers are welcoming a fresh batch of potential rocket scientists and brain surgeons and truck drivers and dot-com entrepreneurs and, yes, teachers. (Regrettably, with those students come attitudes of belligerence and self-righteousness—pointing the blame at teachers for shortcomings that are their own faults. Yes, I’m talking about parents, but I digress.)

So I’m thinking this is the perfect week to applaud the teachers. Teachers are amazing. Theirs is the only profession I know where the employees spend their own money to buy office supplies and posters and story books and anything else that might reach that one child who hasn’t completely taken in a particular lesson. They take work home because their in-school hours are never enough. They offer to stay late to work one-on-one, particularly in the case of high school students, because some topics are difficult to grasp. They take lunch room duty, playground duty, hall monitor duty, and the occasional janitorial duty. They attend school plays, sporting events, and band concerts (that last deserves more than a mere mention—have you ever had to sit through a 5th grade performance? I’ll just say this…clarinets.)

Mr. DeRobbio was my English teacher in the 9th, 11th, and 12th grades. He was also my creative writing teacher, and one of the first people in my life to suggest I should consider writing as a vocation. I could never thank him enough for his patience, his encouragement, and the genuine interest he took in my work. Mr. D. was ancient when I attended school in the 70s, so I’m not even sure he’s still with us, but I’ll hunt him down in Heaven, for sure.

My two boys are 14 years apart, so I’ve been sending someone to school for 25 years now. That’s a lot of parent-teacher meetings, don’t you know. My oldest, my precious Attention Deficit child, was labeled “unteachable” in his early years. I’m going to tell you a special story about the teacher who saved him.

Mrs. Neff taught 3rd grade at a school in Yuma, Arizona, where my oldest had been placed in a “special” classroom for incorrigible students. He hated that class because he loved learning and most of the kids placed there did not. (Sadly, the room earned the nickname “animal house” for the behaviors displayed there). Few people had heard of ADD at that time, and they just thought he was a bad kid. In fact, he was so smart, the teachers just couldn’t keep him busy, and so he self-entertained, often to the point of disruption. Mrs. Neff noticed he had a knack for math and challenged him one day, saying that if he could sit still in her class he could visit her for math class each day.

Well, that young man did such a good job that Mrs. Neff opened the door wider, inviting him to visit during reading time as well, and then for science. She also took on the challenge of learning all about ADD, taking night classes and incorporated many of the tips she learned into her teaching, specifically to keep him engaged. By the end of the school year, my son was fully “mainstreamed” and behaving (for the most part) like the rest of the children. My heart nearly broke to think he would have to start over in the 4th grade with someone new.

But he didn’t. She moved with him. Just to keep his world consistent. And he thrived.

Journal entry for crater in Arizona

Chronicling a cross-country adventure.

When he neared the end of the 4th grade, we received orders to Virginia and had to leave. My son made a scrap book of the trip across country that he mailed to his class when he arrived on the east coast. Mrs. Neff shared the book with the class and had them all write notes of encouragement and well wishes on the pages. Then she sent it back to him.

What a teacher. I swear to this day that she is the reason he didn’t fall through the cracks. Well…there was also his 6th grade biology teacher who pretended she didn’t know he was listening when she said to us, “Frankly, I don’t think he’s got what it takes to make it in my class,” which sparked an “I’ll show her!” attitude that carried through the year. And Mr. Brown, his high school band teacher, who made band a family, and fostered a strict but caring environment that my son loved. For the privilege of staying in the band, he not only made sure to stay out of trouble in his other classes, but he became an accomplished saxophonist and still plays today. And many others.

Today my oldest is a bright, funny, hard-working, compassionate man, and it wasn’t my doing, I assure you. Without just the right people in just the right places, using just the right mix of love and psychology, I honestly don’t know if he would have graduated.

So, today I send kudos to all the teachers out there. Know that you are making a difference. And when you get the “unique” students, don’t wonder why they’re in your life. Ask why you’re in theirs. You matter. A lot.


Let my teaching fall like rain and my words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants. –Deuteronomy 32:2


NOTE: Thank you to everyone who sent me blog ideas. My list runneth over. I will certainly be drawing from it as the month unfolds. Stay tuned!

6 Responses to “If you can read this, thank a teacher”

  1. Michele September 2, 2015 at 9:50 pm #

    Great story. Yay for the teachers for sure.

    • Kathleen Grunden September 2, 2015 at 10:16 pm #

      What a wonderful testimony and what a blessing for your son.

  2. Elaine Beachy September 2, 2015 at 10:54 pm #

    Great post, Rose Marie! I very much enjoyed reading it!

  3. Jolin Schoen October 19, 2017 at 11:25 am #

    I had Mrs. Neff as my fourth grade teacher at crane elementary. She is the reason I love to read. She opened up a whole new world of imagination and inspiration to me that I have given to my children and now their children. Is there a way I can contact her to thank her.

    • Portrait Writer October 19, 2017 at 9:36 pm #

      What a beautifully small world! She was a treasure. I would so like to contact her again. When I contacted Suverkrup she had already retired, but they gave me her address–that was many years ago and I’ve lost it. I just may have to try again…


  1. State of the Portrait Writer Report | The Portrait Writer - December 31, 2015

    […] September we explored the undervalue of Teachers (If You Can Read This…) and canines (Treat Each Other like Dogs), both of whom improve our lives […]

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