Recently, I had a disheartening conversation with a colleague. The topic was: To what degree do you enjoy working with at-risk/challenging students? His answer really shook me up.
He said, “I don’t.” Then he changed it to, “I do when I can see that I am making an impact but not when my efforts are wasted.” Though his answer was honest, it cut me like a knife.
Later that night, I sat down and wrote the following letter to my 10th grade science teacher, Mr. James Stroud.
Dear Mr. Stroud,
I hope you remember me. I was in your science class your first year as a teacher. I wanted to take the time to thank you for everything you have done for me.
I was a punk rock skateboarder who was dealing with a lot of baggage. My parents had recently divorced and I lived in a neighborhood that was zoned to go to Poly High, though most of my friends went to North. I was a lonely and broken kid. School was not a priority for me. I was more concerned with finding some sense of belonging and meaning in the world.
The day I walked into your class I knew you were different than most teachers. I could tell you cared. You took me under your wing. We used to talk about punk music. I would give you mix tapes and you’d take the time to listen, not only to the tapes, but to me.
To be honest, I don’t think I learned much about science that year. But the thing I learned the most in your class was that I mattered. That I was someone special. That someone cared for me and that I was interesting. I have carried that lesson for 30 years now.
I wanted to let you know that I am a high school English teacher in Southwest Washington. I have a heart for at-risk, troubled kids. I have taught a freshman support class that I developed which takes kids who don’t do school and pair them with seniors for tutoring, but mostly for relationship building. This is your legacy.
I know, as a teacher, that we never really get to reap the benefit of what we do. We invest and invest hoping that we’ll take a kid and make him an all-star student. The funny thing is, that our expectations are not what really matters to a kid. What matters most to them is that they feel loved and as if someone truly cares for them with no strings attached. When they feel this, the world is their oyster.
Again, I want to thank you for all you have done for me. I hope that you keep looking for that kid that needs someone to just care about him. I hope you are not jaded by the lack of immediate results common to our profession. I hope you are still making a difference.