This morning I learned (via Facebook) that one of my favorite middle school teachers has passed away. Mr. Buday was a shining light in the darkness that was grades six to eight. The people who know me best know that school was a real nightmare for me. From second grade on I was relentlessly bullied, which resulted in serious depression, chronic absences, and a whole lot of "acting out". I was a moody, defiant, angry young woman, and most teachers didn't know what to do with me.
Mr. Buday, however, reached out to me. Through cheerful, persistent kindess he let me know that I had at least one friend, one ally. He checked up on me when I missed school, sang me songs when I was sad, and treated me like I was a normal kid. He was really special. I wish I'd taken the time to tell him that it all ended up OK in the end, that I made it through that darkness, that his kindness helped clear a path for a happier future for me. Maybe he knew that. I sure hope so.
It got me thinking about teachers, and our relationships with them. Teachers can have such an intense impact on us, but after we grow up and move on, we rarely get the chance to reconnect with them. It can takes years, maybe decades to grow up enough to realize just how much these people meant to you. By then, your chance to thank them is usually gone.
Looking back, there are so many teachers that made me who I am. I have no idea what happened to any of them after I left school. Do they wonder about me too, or am I just one of an endless parade of kids? Considering that I lived through what seemed like a thousand teachers, and just a handful stick out in my memory, the ratios must be similar on the other side of the coin. I'm curious to know where and when they might match up.
Wouldn't it be a treat to be able to go back and visit all of your favorite teachers? In my imagination these interviews would take place exactly where we left off. I would find them in the same old classrooms, with the same haircuts, behind the same desks. Only this time, I would be all grown up, and we could finally really talk. I would dazzle them with my shiny new life, and they would let me in on all of their grown-up teacher secrets. After that, we'd go out for beers every now and then, remaining fast friends for life.
When kids are in middle school or high school, their paths are so treachorous, their futures so uncertain. I think of the kids in my life, and how hard it would be to just say goodbye to them, never knowing how their lives turned out. How many of my teachers fear for the worst when it comes to me? I painted a pretty scary picture. Sometimes I wish I could just drop them a line. "Remember me? I made it. I'm OK. Thanks for the help."
I'm going to take this opportunity to put a few messages out into the world. I don't know if my teachers will ever find them, but at least I'll have given it a try. I want the universe to know that they were special, that they helped me, and that I'm grateful. Wherever you are, my favorite teachers, please know that you are loved, and your efforts did not go unrewarded.
Mr. Buday – Chalk Hill Middle School, Science
You were kind to me when it felt like noone else was. Thank you for the songs, the hugs, for using my full name, and most of all, the persistence. Middle School was one of the loneliest times of my life, and you were my friend.
Ms. Wallace – Masuk High School, Art
You taught me that doing something for the love of it was enough, that things like perfection and profit must come second to joy, and that there is always room for fantasy. You were always yourself, no matter if it fit in or not, and that was just the kind of self-confidence I needed to find in myself. Thank you for teaching me to find my own happiness.
Mr. Stevens – Chalk Hill Middle School, Industrial Arts
Everyone had a crush on you. For most of the girls, it was probably your mustache. For me, it was your unabashed anti-establishment, rock-n-roll attitude. Thanks for being a rebel.
Mrs. Mayorhoffer - P.S. 28, First Grade
You were my first favorite teacher. Thank you for recognizing the things that made me different and believing that they were gifts. Not everyone would see them the same way later. You taught me to teach others, something that has brought me a lot of joy, and you encouraged me to write as often as I read, something that has brought me a lot of satisfaction and success. I'll never forget you.
Mr. Taylor – Monroe Elementary and Chalk Hill Middle School, English, Science, and Dimensions
We spent a lot of grades together. Through them all, I loved the way you fought to broaden our horizons, challenged us to think outside the box, and faced every school day with bravery and determination. Thanks for singing over the loud speaker, forcing rainbows on everyone, and forever being yourself. I was always desperate for you to notice me, but I'm not sure you ever did. That's OK though. It seemed like being fabulous kept you pretty busy.
Mr. Shea – Masuk High School, English
I almost never showed up for your class, and when I did, I would spend the entire period scribbling in a notebook, completely ignoring you. Little did I know you'd been looking over my shoulder, reading. I'll never forget the day you told off the other kids in class, telling them that I had more talent and creativity in my skinny little notebook than they'd amasss in their lifetimes. I guess you believed that too, since you gave me a grade that I'd done nothing to deserve. I'll never forget that passing grade in a sea of F's. The feeling that someone out there believes in me still comes in handy. I often think back to that day. Pride and ambition blossom from the memory, forcing me to pick up the pen and keep writing.
Who were your favorite teachers? What would you tell them now, if you could?