an open letter to my teachers

Dear Teachers,

I looked at a map today, and when I got confused, I turned in my seat so my map faced north. It made me think of you, on that day when you failed repeatedly to teach our class how to read a map. Finally, in exasperation, you told the entire class to swing our desks towards the north, so we could see on paper where we fit in the world. Then all of a sudden, everything made sense. It was a serendipitous moment, and I still do to it 30 years later.

You all did that so many times. Your teaching consisted of tools, tactics, even tricks to coerce me into grasping concepts. You demonstrated to me there was different ways to learn, by seeing it on a board, watching it in action, reading it in a book, getting my hands dirty, or by silently listening.

You were gleeful when I showed you I could tie my shoes, angry when I was assaulted by a classmate, ecstatic when I won an award, and distressed when I came to class drunk. You showed me the difference between correction and rejection, approval and acceptance.

Your checkmarks were larger than your x’s on my tests.

You saw me as beautiful when I wasn’t pretty. You looked me in the eye when I did not look back. You listened and spoke on my behalf, then urged me to do it for myself. You leveled the playing field. You showed me my potential in contrast to the world, rather than in contrast with those around me who were better than me.

You let me cry in class. You accepted my vulnerabilities because you showed me yours. When you were wrong, you said, “I’m sorry.” Willing to accept your own limitations, you showed me how to recover from failure. When you were right, you did not back down. You had quirks, habits, idiosyncrasies that were both aggravating and endearing. You had crooked teeth and clunky shoes, and you were confident and secure. Your model of acceptable behaviour and your consistency gave me a glimpse into the importance of balance when navigating through change.

You leaned in. You smiled. You listened. You placed your hand on my shoulder, laughed when I was funny, nodded when I was insightful, frowned when I was wrong.

You said, “WELL DONE!” rather than “Well done.”

You moved me from external to internal discipline. You challenged my beliefs that minimized my worth or limited my acceptance of others. You taught me the value of silence and to listen to my heart.

You showed me that dirt is beautiful, math is musical, history is powerful and poetry is sacred.

You gave me a vision for the future. My few short years had given me a limited perspective, but you showed me they were a portion, a foundation, and a beginning. My life was a story, and there you were, holding the pen, showing me how each scene and lingering message would shape the adventure.

You understood that my grades measured my retention, my interests revealed my uniqueness, and my character reflected my humanity.

In the slow and deliberate process of delivering information, you gave me more than knowledge. You gave me the ability to learn, the capacity to grow, the security to be confident, and the quest to explore. You showed me on paper where I fit in the world. You taught me to love with freedom and live with abandon. Thanks to your influence on my life, I am loving and living to capacity, and I will be always grateful.

Sincerely,

Your student.

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