A Surprise Response

Yesterday I wrote about a student who surprised me by withdrawing himself late in the semester. I am not one to take student disappearances personally, but this one spooked me because he was doing so well. And it is so very late in the semester.

During the course of the day I received a response.

No, it was not from him.

But it was from a former student, someone I have not seen with my own eyes for decades.

This person gave me permission to share.

So I am.

That's a lot of boxes!

When my parents moved from my hometown, I wasn’t able to go home to look through my room, so they threw everything I owned in bags and boxes (mostly just opening the drawers and dumping the stuff in). They said I could look through it later.

That was almost ten years ago.

When I went to visit a few months ago, they told me I should look through everything and either move it or lose it. I spent hours looking through all the papers from preschool through high school. I found drawings I had made, essays I had written, and report cards.

And in the mix, I also found a very sad poem I had written.

And a note from you.

Since I work with teenagers, I worry all the time I will miss the signs — and hope that they feel as comfortable coming to me as I did to you.

It is scary when someone you know commits suicide; it can feel like you missed something.

But I cannot be the only person you have taught to say you have also caught the signs.

As a teen it would not have been easy, or even in my realm of thought, to say thank you.

But it is now.

And so I wanted to write and say thank you for caring, thank you for seeing signs that things were not right and especially thank you for simply taking the time to listen.

I cannot tell you what I might would have done in high school because I really don’t know, but I do know that I am grateful to you for being there.

The campaign says: “It gets better”. Well it does, and I am so grateful to be here to prove that saying true.

Much gratitude to the person who authored this letter.

It meant the world to me.

So much of teaching is about delayed gratification.

We teachers spend our days with these people — some of whom we come to care about — and then we set them free, and cross our fingers that everyone will land on his or her feet.

I’m so happy to know this person has.

@Tweet this Twit @rasjacobson

37 thoughts on “A Surprise Response

  1. it’s very moving to know the lasting impact teachers have on our lives. You nailed it when you described it as delayed gratification. Though they might not realize it at the time, in time, teachers are definately remembered by their former students. Some of my toughest teachers taught me the best lessons that I didn’t realize until years later.

  2. Wow! This gave me chills! I can’t believe you got that response yesterday after your last post. How wonderful. How beautiful. And thank goodness it does get better.

  3. Wow! You are so incredible. This story really speaks to my heart, because just like “It’s A Wonderful Life” and “Family Man”, we don’t know how much our lives affect the lives of others…Keep being amazing you.

  4. How is that for timing? The universe works in mysterious ways to let us know we’re on the right (or sometimes slightly misguided) path. I can imagine that letter would mean the world to you anyway, but given your recent situation, I’m sure it meant even more.

    Very cool, Mrs. Schuls-Jacobson.

    P.S. My last comment on that post was not to imply laziness on the part of any student, but rather the cavalier attitude many college students have. I hope there were no misunderstandings, as I meant no disrespect.

    1. You are so right, Abby.

      About the universe. It does kind of seem to work itself out.

      I didn’t take any offense to your comment yesterday. At all.

      Girl, you would know if I had been offended because I would have just changed everything you had written so that it was a super-glowing report. There would have been unicorns involved. And rainbows. 😉

      So excited for your new book! Squee!

    1. Susie: I am with you! I feel so filled with gratitude! I am so thankful that this person responded — and then allowed me to post the response.

      So it might not be “the” student who was involved in this particular case, but I will have faith that he is going to be okay, too.

  5. Not that this post was about validation…but WOW.

    If this letter doesn’t make every question you’ve asked or conversation you’ve had, every shoulder you’ve touched and eye you have met worth the effort?

    I don’t know what does.

    Much love to you, Renee.

    And remember always that you have made a difference.

  6. Oh my, I have chills. you are the exact person I;d want teaching my kids.

    And coming from this picky Mama, that’s a huge compliment!

    Thank you for sharing this touching reminder to NEVER skip an opportunity to connect. NEVER.


    1. Galit: I must confess I continue to find my students endlessly fascinating. I think if that goes, it’s time to step off.

      And as long as I recognize their humanity first, all will be good.

      This email gave me chills, too. 😉

  7. Most of us are fortunate if we have a serious impact on one or two lives during our lifetimes. Any teacher worth his or her salt must impact hundreds or maybe even thousands – and there are few you receive any feedback from to know what effect you’ve had. How wonderful that this person wrote you. Maybe that helps to offset the low pay and great frustrations most teachers endure.

    1. David: I figured out this morning that I’ve got about 2,000 former students roaming around out there.

      Which is pretty cool.

      And my husband is a doctor, so I’m fortunate that I don’t have to fret about the money. Don’t get me wrong, it would be nice to make more… but I don’t have to work. I choose to.

      That said, I do like to remind Dr. Husband that after we were married, it was my full year’s paycheck that allowed us to pay off the balance on his student loans. 😉

  8. Very chilling but it’s great that you made the difference! Teachers can truly be godsends; but sometimes, they seem to feel like “the parents are away from home”…keep it up!

      1. Um…I have no idea how these things work, but can you go ahead and sign up again? If that doesn’t work, I’ll snag someone to help me figure out what’s going wrong.

        Thanks for the heads up!

  9. WOW! Amazing to know that you DO make that difference in kids. I had teachers like that. I can count them on one hand. And it’s teachers like you that I hope for for my own kids.
    thank you for sharing. 🙂

  10. Once again you’ve shared a genuinely touching story. It’s inspiring to hear you made a difference in someone’s life, but I also appreciate reading about people who are introspective and kind enough to write a note decades later to give thanks and let someone know they made a difference.

  11. I’m so glad you got this feedback, and I’m so glad you were able to be there for this student. I know that I would be a very different person without my teachers. Thank you for the time and effort you put into your students. It benefits all of us.

  12. It is certainly nice when a teacher cares. I rarely had any that cared, but I had this one teacher in 9th grade that thought I seemed sad, so she talked to me about it and wanted to make sure everything was okay. That was a very bad year, but that was one of the things that made me happiest when I think back about it, even though it was simple. It was so nice that someone actually noticed me and cared enough to talk to me about things. I read the previous post, too, and I think it’s great that you’re one of those kinds of teachers.

  13. Thank you for sharing this story; it’s an inspiration to me as I begin my teaching journey. I have long worked with troubled youth and often wonder how I will be able to transfer that experience into the classroom. I’m happy to see that sometimes the biggest difference can be made with a little note.

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