Monday, February 8, 2010

The Best Presents Ever!

A pony? No. Chocolate? Not so much. A new Ferrari (as though an old Ferrari would be somehow troubling)? Nope. In recent months, I’ve been gifted with a couple presents that top all others, because their wealth of meaning is almost limitless. And what were these marvelous gifts: two e-mails. Pretty exciting, huh?

As a writer seeking representation, it’d be easy to think these e-mails might be requests for partials and fulls (and those are lovely to be sure), but these e-mails struck deeper because they came from the past. Or rather, the collective pasts of myself and the senders of the e-mails, both of whom I haven’t seen in about ten years.

I’ve mentioned before that, for six years, I taught social studies, mostly at the middle school level. My belief is that teaching is one of the most important jobs out there, and while a teacher, I worked obsessively to make my class something unique, something challenging, and, every chance I got, something fun. History class lends itself perfectly to battle re-enactments and hands-on strategies. Some of my most enjoyable education-related activities included: having the students ride a boat (made of all the desks dragged into the hallway) across the English Channel to attack the beaches of Normandy; a wild trench warfare battle, complete with bubbles (mustard gas, of course); and a stealth mission through the jungles of Vietnam to teach team building, leadership, and a little history (on the sly).

I loved being a teacher, even though it was the most exhausting job I could ever imagine. But one of the hardest things about teaching is that it is very much like investing with everything you have in a future you will never see. Never. Well, that’s what I thought until some of my students sought me out. And I have to say a big thank you to technology in our modern world that allows people to be found.

The thrill of hearing from former students just can’t be measured on any scale I can think of. The first reached out several months ago, and I’ve had the good fortune to hear about his life now. What an absolute treat. In middle school, he was the kind of kid you had to smile at no matter how much he tried to usurp power through his role as class clown. I’ve heard of parents who scold kids while trying to hold back their laughter, and I can only imagine he was that kind of kid for his parents. And now? He is the youngest sergeant in his unit in the Army and recently returned to Iraq. I am so proud of his choice to serve his country... and maybe a little worried, too. Current events are a lot more powerful when you know people whose dedication to the United States places them in harm’s way. But regardless of worried former teacher syndrome, I am so glad that he found me and shared his grown-up life story with me (he’s even got a very pretty fiancée now). And it is a wonderful compliment that he sought out a teacher from a decade ago.

The second contact from a former student came just a couple weeks ago and seriously made my day (and every day I think of it). This former student was in my class the same year as the previously mentioned one, and she was one of those amazing kids you recognize from a mile away. Compassion. Intelligence. Courage. All great things, just not normally found in a middle school student. Most are struggling to find their place in the scope of life, and she just knew hers. So, to hear from her, to be thought of by her, is a great honor. And her words... absolutely priceless.

Here is some of what she wrote (printed with her permission of course):

I wanted you to know that you were the most inspirational teacher I ever had. As cliche as that may be, it's true. As I get ready to move forward in my academic career, I have you to thank for challenging me to think beyond the realm of the classroom and stand up for what I believe in. I have thought of you and your class often, knowing that part of the reason I have had the courage to do many of the things I have done in the past four years is because of what you taught and instilled in me in middle school. Teachers like you are hard to come by, and I am grateful that I had the opportunity to learn from such a passionate and incredible teacher and person.”

She absolutely made me cry the best kinds of tears ever. And when she mentioned the things she’s had the courage to do... that included volunteering in Africa. Amazing.

I always felt blessed to be a teacher and honored for the role I played in the lives of young people. And, yes, teaching is investing in a future you most likely won’t be able to see, but when you do get to, it is one of the most amazing feelings imaginable. These two former students turned fantastic, courageous adults humble me by reaching out to their middle school social studies teacher, to not only share their lives but to ask about mine. One funny thing is how awkward it is when I tell them that since they are all grown up, they can call me by my first name. He has made it through Miss Julie and settled on Teach, and she is working on it.

Huge thanks to both for giving the best presents ever by sharing their current lives with a person from their pasts.

Quote for the Day from Mary Anne Radmacher

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’


Jen said...

Thats amazing! That would brighten my day for sure, and I could see the tears, that was so sweet!

I recently wrote my english teacher who gave me the passion and the fire to write, she blessed me in more ways than I could ever imagined, and I emailed her thanking her, unfortunately I never heard back, but I am glad to hear that you had appreciated it, because I am sure that she felt the same way and that makes me proud :)

DebraLSchubert said...

If only more teachers were as committed and daring as you were! Then again, when you give it all you've got like you did, there is the burn-out factor.

Kudos to them for taking on the challenges of their lives, and for seeking you out to thank you. And kudos to you for being such a great inspiration. What priceless gifts you've given each other.

Jemi Fraser said...

Absolutely lovely!

I've been lucky enough to be contacted by a few former students as well & you're right - it's the best feeling ever. Indescribable.

Frankie said...

My dear Jules;

Having gotten to see you teach one of those classes (storming the beach at Normandy, I believe) I would like to call it like I saw it: genius from love. You are one of those teachers students actually look forward to having. I hope one day to have my students as excited to see me. (That probably won't happen because I beat them, but hey.) You are one of those teachers everyone wants to be.

Love ya


Terresa said...

"The best kind of tears ever" -- I know those tears, too, but from Librarianship.

You are one amazing teacher. I am grateful for every single inspirational teacher like you, who encourage my own children, day after day, year after year.

PS: The quote from Radmacher was great, I Tweeted it!

Robbie said...

you are too awesome, now if you have the number 3 on your card, all the number 2s just threw up on you hahahaa.

Julie said...


I can't believe that you remember the details of the Normandy Beach battle, which probably means you were one of the unfortunate soldiers who was vomited on by a seasick comrade (pretend of course) on your way to making history that day. :)

It was seriously wonderful being your teacher and thanks again for finding me.

Be safe always!

Julie said...


Thanks for the comment. It was truly wonderful hearing from my former students, and I'm sure your teacher felt the same. I might just have to start searching for the two English teachers who inspired me, and the history teachers who made me become one. :)

Julie said...


"What priceless gifts you've given each other." Nicely said, my friend. That's the magic between people, the giving, the receiving, the joys of the memories and the absolute beauty in being remembered. It's all magic!

Love ya!

Julie said...


Thanks for the comment and your work in the classroom, carrying on the good fight. It is so worth it. I had to leave for myself, but I know that I'll never feel as filled with purpose as I did as a teacher.

Julie said...


You made me get all teary. And you already are that teacher! They certainly do keep coming back for more. So glad I could share my work in the classroom with you. Those kids were awesome. They went with me into the fun. I'll never forget the dedication when some students were defusing a completely imaginary trip wire. I brought the ideas and they brought the belief. It was beautiful!

Love ya!

Julie said...


Thanks for the comment. Teachers are amazing. I admire everyone who could continue for longer than I could.

And I loved that quote, too, and was so glad I found it. Courage really is about showing up more than any other thing!