Dear Teachers

good teacher

Behold the power of teachers. It sounds like a cheesy ad but, as everyone knows, there’s no truer sentence or sentiment. I’ve had good and bad experiences with my own over the years. My high school Psychology teacher was so enthusiastic about the subject matter, I ultimately picked that as my college major. Talk about a powerful influence! I even remember the day I was hooked on the subject. He handed out fortune cookies and asked everyone who thought their fortune pertained to them to raise their hands. Not surprisingly, nearly all of us raised our hands, with many of us truly awestruck by how eerily accurate ours seemed to be. Then he told us we all had the same fortune. It blew my mind. I’m fascinated by the way we perceive things, and this was my first taste of a subject about which I was truly passionate. He probably doesn’t even remember me to be perfectly honest but I often think I should tell him about his impact.

I’ve had a few doozies on the negative side, too … one who made an indelible mark on me for the worse that has stayed with me to this very day. I am confident I will shake it eventually but I haven’t been able to do it thus far. It seems silly when I recount the story but, in fourth grade, our teacher (a former nun who was a teacher in my Catholic school) asked us to do an impromptu talent show. We had to come up with something on the spot or we wouldn’t get our prize (Necco wafers … funny that I still remember that, probably because I’ve always thought they were absolutely disgusting and not worthy of anything but a faux communion sesh). Things like this never bothered me. In fact, I thrived on it. I was the class clown and loved my status as such. I was going to tell jokes, and I was thrilled about it. When I got up there, everyone booed me for telling the same jokes I’d told a thousand times. I took it all in stride, as I knew I had told them ad nauseum. The fact that the kids chided me didn’t really bother me. I laughed it off and sat down, allowing the next person to go. This teacher let everyone go but didn’t stop there.

“Marnie, it’s your turn,” she said.

“But I already went,” I replied.

“Right, but you said you were going to try again since you’d already told those jokes,” she said, unrelenting.

At this point, I’d felt something I’d rarely felt until then. Sheer and utter humiliation and terror.

“But I can’t think of anything else,” I said, fighting the tears threatening to spill over.

“Then you’ll be the only one not to get your prize,” she said with no sentiment whatsoever.

I’m not sure what happened at that very moment, but a part of my innocence and definitely my love of being in the spotlight was gone. Poof. In an instant. I went downstairs and ran to my mom, who was a P/T teacher at the school at the time, and cried my eyes out for an hour. I was never the same. I never raised my hand to answer a question or read or share my thoughts. When I was called on to read, I would hyperventilate and often have to leave the room to go see the nurse. It lasted all the way through grade school, despite the best efforts of many good-hearted teachers who tried to help me.

Fortunately, I changed a bit in high school and lost the fear to a certain extent. I was able to do speeches in classes without having panic attacks but I never really wanted the spotlight as I had at one time. Still, it was good. It was fine. I wasn’t embarrassed and I wasn’t humiliated. The same went for college for the most part. I definitely got “the jitters” when I went to give speeches but, for the most part, I did a decent job … probably even excelled in some of them. I loved to talk and participate, as I was studying the things I wanted to and the things I was passionate about.

Fast forward to graduate school for Counseling Psychology, and the panic attacks came back with the quick and blunt force of a murder weapon. I even remember what class I was in – Multicultural Studies. I went to raise my hand and I couldn’t catch my breath, and I began to hyperventilate. “No, not this,” I remember thinking. “Not after all these years.”

I was proactive. I sought therapy right away. I went on anti-anxiety meds. I was even hypnotized by a therapist with an approach called E.M.D.R., and the therapist tried to bring me back to that day in fourth grade. It didn’t work. I floundered through every speech but, fortunately, your fellow grad students become like your family, and they all accepted me for this flaw.

To this day, I’m still terrified of public speaking. And I still loathe this woman, who I’m sure is long dead, with the fire of a thousand red hot suns. I know I have to take responsibility to a certain extent and also to let it go, but I’m sad that she used her power as a teacher for evil instead of good and scarred me in a way that still upsets me to my very core. Writing jokes is one my favorite things but I know I could never do an open-mic night without falling down, grabbing a paper bag to breathe into, and subsequently vomiting into the nearest garbage.

Will I ever get beyond this? I truly believe I will. Right now, I have other focuses. But I know that one day I will take the time to face this fear head-on and hopefully overcome.

Sorry for that major digression but you see my point, right? Teachers have in their very own bodies an arsenal of things they can use on students. And I’m so, so very thankful for the ones who use the tricks in their bag to boost the self-esteem of those in front of them. To pass on their knowledge with passion. To understand that students have bad days. To coddle when they need to but also to confront when they need to. To not take any crap but be compassionate. We see you, teachers. We see you staying late and arriving early and reaching into your own wallets to pay for school supplies. We see you showing up despite the shit pay and the shitty weather and, quite frankly, the burnout of this high-intensity job. I saw it in my own mother and I see it in many of my friends. And I’ve seen it in my son’s teachers so far.

Yesterday, my son’s teacher came back from maternity leave. We barely know her. We’ve had the same woman for the whole year until now. The same thing happened to us last year, so I’ve been a bit bitter to say the least. But I have decided to just be grateful. Grateful that this woman we had all year has treated with my son with such respect. Grateful that she’s seen some areas that he struggles in and made sure to do everything she could to help him. Grateful that she’s met with me and talked to me whenever I’ve wanted to, no questions asked. Grateful that she doesn’t sugar coat things but gives us so much hope. Just so very, very grateful. As I handed her flowers and a card yesterday that told her that my son says daily, “Mrs. Kramer is the best teacher in the whole world,” I got teary-eyed. I awkwardly hugged her and walked away, lest she see my tears and think I’m some sort of lunatic.

Behold! The power of teachers. It’s awesome.


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