because life doesn’t fit in a file folder

A Surprise Response

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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.

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What Teachers Make

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I can’t imagine that there is anyone in America who hasn’t seen Taylor Mali’s video rant.

But just in case, here it is again, in a different version.

Because it really is true.

What do you think about this piece of free-verse performance art? Does it make you think of any particular teacher? Care to share? And if you are a teacher, which part do you relate to most?

And what exactly do they say about lawyers? 😉

Lessons From Mrs. Church

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Mrs. Church stands in the far right of the back row.

I loved Mrs. Church, my 2nd grade teacher, from the very first day of school. Among other things, she taught a unit on Hawaii where we made grass skirts and learned songs about “going to a hukilau”: I still know the words. She let us sample real sugar cane and poi, each of us dipping our fingers into the community bowl with our two fingers. Lord knows where she got the stuff. She wore crazy, clunky necklaces that epitomized the 1970s – owls with big eyes, huge butterflies, giant yellow flowers. She wore two-piece, polyester, polka-dotted pantsuits, and her ragged-edged haircut made it appear she did the job herself at home.

Mrs. Church literally had my back, and she rescued me when a certain twit who sat at the desk directly behind me decided that it would be fun to cut my hair with his dull-bladed scissors. She must have read his mind because I barely felt the tug of his hands on the back of my head when she called out, “Mr. So-and-So, you may bring those scissors up to my desk now.”

She encouraged me to write and revise, and – eventually – to enter a writing contest held at our local library the spring of my 2nd grade year. I don’t know if I won or not (probably not), but I remember the way she made me feel: like I could do anything.

Please share a memory of one of your favorite teachers. What did he/she do that makes you remember him/her all these years later?

The prompt was to write about a favorite mentor in under 500 words. I wrote about this when my blog was very new, and I had very few followers. I’d love to honor my old teacher, a woman I think about nearly every day.

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