Every September I get this colossal sense of wonder and gratitude regarding the men and women to whom we’ve entrusted the minds and dreams of our children. Where would we be without these wonderful people who can explain concepts to our children that, let’s face it, we don’t understand ourselves? Some of the concepts that elude me include the binary code, why Pluto isn’t a planet, and, if atoms are made up of 99.9% empty space, how can we touch things? And the greatest mystery of all: math.
Have you stopped to think about this lately? They have the power to inspire, crush, see, ignore, challenge, nurture, and motivate our children, and they are the ones who actually teach our children what they need to know to make it to the next milestone and beyond. That’s a power we shouldn’t take lightly, but pray about and praise when we find the ones with that extra something. I’m excited to think that someone my son has just met may be the person he looks back on with gratitude, the one who first recognized his gift and planted those first seeds of encouragement that turned into a career.
Yes, that teacher will always be special, the way I still remember Mr. DeRobbio handing my essay back to me in the 9th grade and saying, “You might want to consider becoming a writer.” But he alone didn’t bring me to this place. It took years of passionate, patient, sorely overworked and underpaid teachers, each adding seeds of wisdom and encouragement to the pot to make a whole me. And behind the scenes were hundreds of administrators and support staff collecting data, answering phones, shelving books, fixing lunches, and mopping floors to ensure we had a healthy, safe, and nourishing environment for learning. (I’m married to a man we all call The Lunchroom Lady, so he gets props too!)
Consider the blog page you’re reading right now. The very fact that I can string 900 words together for you to and you can actually read a 900-word blog (I know, I know, you just look at the pictures, but you could if you wanted to) says we had some pretty good teachers. Mr. DeRobbio not only encouraged even my weirdest writing in high school (I’ve read some recently and wondered what he could possibly have been thinking), but he also introduced me to that beautiful creature: the short story, and he led me to write for the school paper. The rest is history.
But it doesn’t stop there. I’m able to set the words on the page thanks to ten months in Mrs. Mahoney’s Typing 101 class, where we sat in rows before our enormous gray Smith-Corona Super Sterlings chanting “A S D F Semi L K J!” (Sure, kids today can two-thumb the Gettysburg Address in the time it took me to slide the carriage return, but at least I know what the MR key does. . . did. . . whatever.)
And speaking of the Gettysburg Address, I wouldn’t have been able to slide that snarkism in there were it not for Mr. Delgado, my history teacher (whose funky wrap-around comb-over and snow-drift dandruff shoulders are hauntingly unforgettable). Mr. D managed to make the American Revolution and Civil War come alive for me, and give me an appreciation for back story, and his sense of humor taught me that writing needn’t be boring.
Even my math and science teachers contributed. (Strange, but I cannot remember the names of any of my math or science teachers. Is that a writer’s subliminal rebellion?) These people whose ways are alien to me taught other people enough about math and coding to hold this webpage together without duct tape, and enough about circuits, components, electricity, batteries, and that mysterious binary code to make computers, thereby eliminating the need for an MR key. They inspired the kinds of imaginations that made search engines work so you can find me, and some mystical network of tubing under the oceans that keeps the lines of communication humming, and don’t even get me started on touch-screen technology, because I’m already way over my head here. All of this so I can entertain you for ten minutes once a week and hopefully inspire you to read my books.
Fascinating, don’t you think? But I’d like you to consider something else all those wonderful people have in common: Most teachers share your hopes and dreams for your children, yet never find out whether those dreams were realized. They’ve sown thousands of seeds over the years, and they may have set hundreds of young men and women on right paths, but how many of their former students ever report back?
I contacted Mr. DeRobbio back in 1993 when the Marine Corps named me Print Journalist of the Year, and I thanked him for making it possible. He was thrilled to learn that I not only wrote for a living but had achieved a measure of success, and he struck up a regular correspondence, even coming to Virginia to visit me once. When he passed away a few years ago, I could grieve without regretting that he never knew what his passion had produced in at least one of his students.
Is there a teacher in your past who deserves a thank-you note? I challenge you to get in touch if you still can, and congratulate that person on a job well done, because you turned out GREAT!
Even if it’s a math teacher.
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