I have a friend who is constantly reminding everyone what day it is. Not like ‘Hey it’s hump day.’ More like ‘Hey, today is National Parfait Day, so stick a cherry on that,’ or ‘It’s National Clean Out Your Fridge Day, stinky.’
Oddly enough, I heard about this special day on the radio a while back, instead of my usual Lukas updates. And although this day has passed (I think it was the Friday after Thanksgiving, which is a happy replacement for the ‘Black Friday’ label, which just sounds creepy, I think), it is never, never too late to celebrate.
It is a day to contact an old teacher who really made a difference for you as a young person. And I don’t care who you are, everybody has someone who has taught them something profound, someone who has encouraged them or given them that extra bit of support when they need it most. I mean, let’s face it, growing up can be tough, and those special people who help you do it can leave a really lasting impression, they’re part of who you are. It’s time to let them know how much they mean to you.
I did something like this a couple of years ago. I’m by no means done, because I have a long list of teachers who need a special thank you (Ms. Madsen, you are next!). But I started with one teacher who I knew wouldn’t remember me because I was only his student for a little while (moved in 10th grade), partly because I thought it would be nice for him to know how much his guidance meant to me, even though we weren’t close.
I’ll be honest. I probably wouldn’t remember much about Mr. Dick if he hadn’t embarrassed me beyond belief one day in 10th grade. He was an English and humanities teacher, and I was in regular 10th grade English class with him. They cut the advanced program because of funding, and I wasn’t really very happy about having to review things like punctuation. Neither was he.
We had to write an essay about three people from childhood. I picked the neighborhood kids I hung out with in first and second grade -- Jose (totally in love with him), Amy and Andrea (mean, picked people’s flowers from their gardens and then crushed them on the sidewalk all the time).
Now I was the kind of child who would often get in big trouble at the library because one of the 14 novels I checked out would inevitably get lodged under the bed and lost, and then I’d have a huge fine. I’d read my books as I walked from class to class, sometimes plow right into a set of lockers when things were getting hot in the land of Nancy Drew. So I was a pretty decent writer by the time 10th grade rolled around, although I don’t think I really knew it.
We turned in our essays, and I remember mine had some real nice beginning and ending connected to some romantic verbiage on the smell of cooling fresh tortillas (Jose’s mom was our baby sitter and she made some fantastic ones). It was fun though, little slices of my childhood, and I think it was even a little bit funny at times, although probably funny in that ‘look at that kid trying to talk all grown up, awww’ sort of way.
My class with Mr. Dick was part of a “four period day,” and it was the lunch one, so we had something like 45 minutes before lunch, and then 45 minutes afterward. For the first half of class, Mr. Dick talked about how one of the essays was really good, most of them were not good at all, and he was going to have the good essay read aloud after lunch. He said that if this student didn’t grow up to become a writer, he’d be surprised.
I was a little wounded because I was convinced that my nemesis Trevon F. was going to be the one with the good essay. I figured that Mr. Dick wouldn’t surprise someone and make them read their essay in front of the whole class without talking to them first. When you are 15 or 16, standing up in front of your peers and reading romantic language about cooling tortillas is not cool. It’s painful. Mortifying (a word typically reserved for teen magazine letters to the editor).
So I read the essay. Then I think I hid in my locker.
But something about that day never left me. Mr. Dick wasn’t the kind of teacher who coddled his students. He didn’t dish out compliments and pat kids on the head all day. That he believed in me was a shiny little thread of hope, one that has carried me pretty far. I can almost still feel the pangs of excitement lodged deep in my chest, my secret, glowing possible future: I may be a writer.
A few years ago, I called the superintendent’s office at my old school and asked for some contact information for a few of my former teachers. He was a bit suspect, I mean, maybe I was a former student with a grudge trying to hunt down Mr. Dick. You never know. But he took my contact information and sent it out, and soon Mr. Dick was in my e-mail. We started talking, and I relayed my memory of that 10th grade moment. Sure enough, since I moved away nearly right after that event, he didn’t really remember me. But maybe that is part of what is so wonderful about teachers who give so much to help young people learn and grow. They’ll never really know how many people’s lives they’ve touched, how much they meant to so many. That is, unless you tell them. So give old teach a call.