Homage to That One Teacher
I wrote this letter to my 5th/6th grade teacher a few years ago
Ms. Donna Bazzo,
You've probably become super old (just kidding!) and have forgotten me, but I was a student in your Language Arts class at East Globe back when you were Ms. Gilby.
My name is Greg Horlacher and I'm a high school English Lit teacher in Baltimore City. There are so many days that have me wondering whether or not I'm making a lick of difference in these kids' lives and education, and I know that their scores (passing or not) on BS mandatory state tests are no real indicator. I'll get email from students every once in a great while telling me that I was "cool" or that they miss being in my class, and those emails make me feel good even though they don't indicate any particular knowledge gained or impact on their lives as a whole. Well, I've only been teaching for five years, though.
Will these kids still remember me and think I had an impact in twenty years?
Will students contact me at some point in that time frame to evaluate the job I did with them?
I had never contacted any of my teachers to let them know about the positive impact they'd had on me. I thought about it, and in all my time as a student (including my slacker-worthy 5 1/2 year college stint), I'd never had a schoolteacher have even close to as positive an impact as you had on me in my two years at East Globe. Not even close! I can't even remember most of my high school and college teachers' names, but I still remember your class like it was yesterday.
We read books! So many books! They were ALL interesting and organized! My memory may be embellishing, but I'm sure that I've never since seen such an amazing classroom library. You had cushions and space in your classroom so that we could be comfortable as we read. Why not be comfortable? Who wants to be uncomfortable while doing something that should be pleasurable?
We wrote in your class ALL THE TIME! I loved writing, and you let us write what we wanted so that we could continue loving it. You tricked us into learning by letting us play games that sharpened our minds. We played Chess and that one mind game with the pegs that I couldn't get enough of even though I can't remember the name now. We typed up stories and made our own books. You brought in that one professional writer guy who was completely incompetent and knew nothing about children (or writing, I suspect), but your heart was in the right place on that one! We got pizza to our hearts' desires thanks to BookIt and the constant reading we did in your class!
When I think of my love of literature, I give credit first to my parents, but you are a close second. The English teacher I had before you almost ruined me as a student and book enthusiast. Like many teachers, she worried constantly about the little things and completely missed the big picture. You were always understanding. You always had a calmness about you (were you stoned, maybe? Fine by me!), and you never seemed rattled. Whenever there seemed to be a sign of trouble, you had that sly, crooked smile that told us that everything was going to be OK.
You took me and some other kids to some kind of author's festival or something, and I still remember talking to real, published authors. I wasn't originally chosen to go on the trip, but then you said that you were going to pick randomly one more student to go - and I was picked! I wanted to go so badly, but to this day I believe that you really chose me on purpose because you could tell how badly I wanted it (there's no way that I was lucky enough to be drawn randomly). Sorry about all these parentheses.
I still read as much as I can, and I've even started a book club with fellow teachers around the city. My own classroom library is nowhere near what we had in your room, but that is my goal. I'm up to three four-tiered bookcases now - full of books interesting to inner-city kids. I even have a reputation with the kids in the school now. Kids I don't even know come to my room to ask to borrow books. Nice, right? Your influence 20 years ago is all over my classroom. The way I felt in your room is what I aspire to create for my own students.
I was just talking with my brother this morning, and he mentioned how much he had loved you as a teacher as well. His wife is a teacher, so he's able to empathize with some of my own frustrations with teaching (usually having to deal with Dilbert-worthy administrators). I'm willing to bet that your teaching methods weren't nearly as popular with your own administration as they were with your students. I just want to tell you that your classroom was magic, and your teaching still impacts my life.
Hope this letter reaches you and that you understand that your teaching career was worth it.