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An Open Letter to My High School Math Teacher
I should have said this to you years ago. I've told plenty of other people about how you saved my life, but for some reason, it has never occurred to me to tell you... until now.
In hindsight, I have no idea what, if anything, you knew about my story back then. But you probably saw much more about my struggles than anyone else ever did. Even if you didn't know all (or any) of the details, I have no doubt you could see I was an angry, lonely, hurting teenager, and I was full of dysfunction, violence, and helplessness, and I hated everything you asked me to do. I'm sure you knew I didn't like you. But maybe you didn't see that I always respected your grit. And you probably don't know I've always thought of you as the only reason I made it through high school. I apologize for not telling you sooner.
You did not have to come in early or stay late for me, but you did. You did not have to schedule around me or give up time with other people for me, but you did. You were the first person in my life to sit down with me one-on-one and pour yourself into me day after day without losing your temper or raising your voice or walking out on me. You were the only educator in my school who invested more than the minimum to help me succeed. Other people had meetings about me and talked about what they were going to do about me. You met me where I was at and went through it with me. You did not pity me, and you did not criticize me. As far as I know, you never even said anything negative about me. A lot of my teachers did. A lot of them gossiped about me and put me down. But you did not.
You showed me grace and determination. You held your head high, but you did not look down on me. And you would not quit on me, even when I wished you would. I saw your frustration and discouragement from time to time, but they were only reflections of my frustration and discouragement. I saw your tears once, but I pretended I didn't notice. I felt bad for you, when it came to me. I knew I was a burden to you. I was sorry. I remember wishing you didn't have to bother with me. I remember wondering why you bothered.
I guess I figured it was just your job. Why else would you care if I passed your classes or not? I know better now. You didn't have to take the time for me. No one would have noticed if I'd fallen through the cracks. There were no career incentives or popularity points in it for you back then—not when it came to a sorry, dirty, "troubled" kid like me from out of town, whose parents didn't have any friends in the district. My class was full of better prospects, after all; there were plenty of students much more worthwhile of your time.
I said you were mean, but you weren't. You were a mystery to me. You were an honorable woman who treated me with a quiet toughness and a patient endurance that I had never, ever seen before. You valued a kid no one else valued. Your selflessness was so foreign to me, I didn't even know how to speak to you—I could only mumble and avoid eye contact.
You weren't "nice," either. Your kindness was not charity. You did not toil beside me so that others would see your hard work and self-sacrifice. You gave of yourself in private. You gave where there was no reward. You never asked for recognition or thanks, and I never gave them to you. I only gave you attitude. But to this day, whenever I think about the teachers I had in high school, I think about the ones who looked at me with scorn and disdain and impatience—and then I think about you.
I have no idea what beliefs you hold now or by which principles you chose to uphold your gift of teaching then, but when I think back on your work in my life, I see the love of Christ flowing through you, Mrs. Boeck—a love so visible and free (no strings attached) that an unlovable kid like me couldn't even see it for what it was at the time. You welcomed me into your heart in an active and practical way that absolutely no one had ever shown me before. There were a lot of people who could see what was wrong with me in high school, but you were the only one who committed to making any of it right. You made me better than I was—better than I wanted to be. And even if someone had told me that was what you were doing all along, I wouldn't have known what it meant back then. Now I do.
You had no way of knowing your time spent with me would ever be worth it. There was nothing about me then that said I'd ever turn out all right. As far as you knew, I could've kept right on spiraling out of control, deeper into the black, never to be seen again. But you gave of yourself to me anyway. I thought you were crazy. I thought you were wasting your time. But you were not.
I might never become a mathematician... but then again, I certainly never saw myself becoming a minister, either. I've been registered as a second-career ministery student with the Northwest District of The Wesleyan Church for about a year and a half now. I received my bachelor of science in Biblical Studies from Indiana Wesleyan University a couple of weeks ago. I'm beginning a master's in Organizational Leadership in January, and I'll be taking correspondence courses to continue working on my licensed ministry requirements at the same time. I might eventually pursue a Master of Divinity; I hope to be ordained in the future. My academic goal for now is to teach business classes through one of the Wesleyan universities someday. I never thought I had it in me to be a teacher, either. In the meantime, I'm working full-time as a technical writer, supporting a manufacturing engineering group at a Fortune 500 company that carries messages of perseverance around the globe. That's another place I never imagined I'd ever be.
And in some very real and meaningful respects, in a lot of weird ways I can't even begin to count right now, these are all things that never would've happened if you had not come alongside me, if you had not set yourself in my path and lifted me up and made sure this weirdo, outcast, white-trash lost girl could learn enough algebra to graduate Arlington High School.
None of this happened overnight. It's been, what, 13 years since the class of 2002 walked across that stage? But I realize I've never told you, so I'm telling you now: Thank you. Thank you for teaching me. Thank you for seeing me. Thank you for helping me. Thank you for your heart. Thank you for your bravery. Thank you for your faith that your work would pay off. Thank you for giving me so much that I've never even thought to thank you for in the last 13 years. Thank you for believing in me when I did not.
May grace and peace be with you always, blessed lady.
Serenity Jean (Banks) Miller