Thursday, August 23, 2007

A thought for teachers

As we head into another school year I thought I'd share something that just MAY give you a lift. File it under the category of, "You never know the impact you have on a kid's life."

I was a rotten student in high school. I had been on the fast track in math class but I had to be moved to a slower class in order to get band and chorus into my schedule. As a result, I was VERY bored and so my grades fell. I was GOOD in math - but VERY bored in class. And, I also became obnoxious. NO!, you say. Yes. I was obnoxious - especially to my French and English teachers.

This story is about the English teacher, Miss Belfour. She LOVED her literature and her poetry. I... didn't share her enthusiasm. In fact, one day she was having us read, "The Road Not Taken." She asked me something about the symbolism in the poem, and I didn't acknowledge any. I said something like, "No, I don't see any symbolism. I mean *I* could write a poem.." "Oh COULD you, Mr Gates?" ... "and then someone later could apply symbolism to it that I had never intended." Remember, this was THE, "The Road Not Taken."

Fast forward to 30+ years later when I was back home for a funeral. Another of my old teachers came to the funeral and I asked him if Miss Belfour was still alive. She was! He told me where she was living and assured me that her mind was still sharp as a tack. (Wow! She was old when I was in her class!)

Later that evening I looked up her number and called her. "Hello?", she said. "Miss Belfour?" "Yesss?" "This is Jim Gates - a former student from a long time ago. Do you remember me?" "Noo... I don't think so." "Good! I graduated in (a while ago) and I was a pretty obnoxious student back then." "Well, I'm afraid you'll have to be more specific. I had a lot of them." We both laughed.

"I just wanted to call and say, 'Thank you'. Back then you taught us the Robert Frost poem, The Road Not Taken, and I refused to acknowledge the symbolism in it. Today, however, as we speak, I've got a copy of that poem in my wallet. And, when my seniors - I'm a teacher, if you can believe it - when they ask me to sign their yearbooks I put a copy of that poem in the book at my page." "Well," she said, "at 17 you don't have many roads not taken, so it's hard to find the beauty in that poem." "Yes," I said, "and I have it memorized and my wife will ask me to say it for her from time to time."

At that point in the conversation she began, "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood..." I joined her, "and sorry I could not travel both and be one traveler, long I stood and looked down one as far as I could to where it bent in the undergrowth." We recited the rest of the poem together on the phone.

When we finished we were both silent for a bit - maybe ten seconds - as we both just felt the moment. And I heard her crying. I shed a tear, as well.

Another moment later she whispered, "Thank you SO much for calling. I do appreciate it." I wished her well and hung up.

It took me over 30 years to finally get a chance to thank her, and I'm sure that MANY of her students never did. But, she - like YOU - made a big difference in the lives of her students, whether they knew it or not.

So, have a great and memorable year. And, if a student offers you his or her picture at the end of the year, take it and keep it. Write yourself a note about that student on the back - or on another piece of paper that you clip to it. This student is saying, "Remember me! I will remember you." Then, when they call YOU thirty years from now you can look at the picture and remember the child whose life YOU touched in such a positive way so long ago.

8 comments:

Karen Janowski said...

Beautiful story, Jim. Thanks for sharing.

Pat said...

A very touching story, James. I was a terrible student as well. It just goes to show you that we did appreciate what we did not acknowledge.
I read your blog almost daily,I can't tell you how much you have taught me and we have never even met. Thank you!

Anne said...

I love this story. Thanks for sharing. Your blog is one of my must reads!

Best,
Anne

kenrodoff said...

Thanks for sharing your story. Isn't it interesting/ironic/amusing that so many teachers recall that they, when students, were not strong in academics or motivation?

When I was a junior in high school, my Spanish teacher told me that I would one day be a good teacher. I asked him why.

His response:

"The worst students always make the best teachers."

There's a really good compliment in that statement.

Oh, and he was an AWESOME teacher!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much, Jim. Your story touched me. It inspires me as I begin this new year.

Cathy Nelson said...

All i can say is WOW! I was not expecting you to touch me today like that. Wow.

Anonymous said...

thanks Jim As I get ready to start my 30th year, I only hope that I have in fact made a small difference to some of my thousands of past students. A number of years ago, an ex-student showed up in school one day with a dozen roses for myself and another teacher that had helped her years earlier, it made my week.

Anonymous said...

This is the first time I've read your blog and I'm touched. When we ask ourselves, "What am I doing here?" during a difficult day in the classroom, it is stories like this that keep us going.

Thanks for reminding me not to give up on my difficult students.

Julie