A retired schoolteacher received an unexpected Facebook message recently, I have the teacher’s permission to print the note here.
Good afternoon, Mrs._________.
This may seem a little strange (and I apologize for the slight randomness of this message over Facebook – I couldn’t seem to find an email of yours anywhere) but I was one of your grade 1 students back at ______________Public School in 2001.
I was a student who struggled with English, and through your support and guidance, was able to not simply grasp the language, but eventually fall in love with literature and poetry. You were the first (and arguably the only) teacher who has made such an impact on my life, and lit the desire to pursue my aspirations, and take on obstacles in my life.
You took me under your wing and showed me what I could do when I put my mind to something. And although that seems a little silly, for a first grader who really struggled with fitting in, it was profoundly significant. Today I finished my first semester as an undergraduate student at McMaster’s Health Sciences program (Canada’s top premedical program), and in a year and a half, I plan to embark into medical school.
I have reflected a lot about the people that have helped to guide me to where I am today, and aside from the support of my parents, you were the teacher who stood out. Although you were my first grade teacher, I can’t explain how much of a positive impact you’ve made on my life. You were part of the reason why I firmly developed a passion for pursuing education, and I wanted to thank you for that once-in-a-lifetime gift.
My parents and I still remember your endearing presence in the classroom and we frequently recall your kind and caring, almost motherly, kindness towards me. I called the school board to see if I could find you in a classroom, but was delighted to hear about your retirement, and I wish you all the best in this chapter of your life.
With the holiday season upon us, I wish you and your family the very best of health, happiness and memories.
Your student _________________
Although, contrary to what some might say today, life works best when we understand and affirm that we are all the products of our own decisions. Even so, our good decisions are often prompted or restrained by the thoughtful influence of a mentor during moments of crisis or opportunity.
In response to this grateful student’s note, I have resolved to reflect today on the people in my life who played the role of “angels unawares”, speaking words of encouragement or correction to me that in important ways moved me to change my course. Because of my age, many of them – but not all – have gone before.
I will thank someone with a note before sunset, and for those I can’t reach and even for those I can, I will thank God profoundly. What John Donne said centuries ago is true: “No man is an island.”
Photo credit: Ilmicrofono Oggiono (via flickr.com)