In Search of my Previous Teacher


Are you tired, discouraged, fed up, and wondering why you struggle so in your job?  This post is for you…

This has been a rough school year: students not doing their work, more disrespect to me than usual, behavior issues and classroom management problems that have me feeling like a lion tamer with a chair and a whip in my hands.  I teach in a 9th & 10th grade high school with every ethnic, religious, and sexual orientation representation there is.  Many of our students come from low income homes, we have a sizeable SPED and English Language Learners population.  I have been teaching there for 9 years and it has always been a challenging environment, but this year is seems particularly difficult.  I’m 63, a legitimate age to consider retiring – I’m tired, and this is going to be my last semester as a classroom teacher, even though I am short a couple of years before jumping through the golden hoop.  With all of the problems this year, I am sad that my teaching career is going to end this way.  I have felt this year that it feels like I’m mostly spinning my wheels.

Well, the Universe wanted to give me a pick me up, and remind me that the work art educators do is vital and essential to our children’s education.  It couldn’t have come at a better time.   I received an email in my school email from a former student Friday, from a student I’ll call Steve.  Steve searched me out.  He combed the Internet to find me, reached out to verify I was his high school art teacher, and we launched into a conversation.  This is what he said to me:

I took your Art I Sculpture class for the credit, and often times in your class (as in many classes) I would not pay attention, sleep, etc.. typically student. I was not a “bad” student per se. ( I use quotation marks because “bad” is subjective to me) I was an average student as far as academically visibility.   However, I will say this. That school year was one of the worst years of my life, but your class was one of the few things that defiantly made it livable.

I was recently going through videos of my interest, then remembered a video that you showed me in class back in 2014 ( if I am remembering correctly). This made me think about you more and more. This is not the 1st time I recalled back to your classes, but this time it stuck in my head more. What particularly I remember about you is your passion you had about just about everything you did. My thinking is because you are an artist. Your class was a major factor of something I would learn later in life, even if I did not know it when I did learn it. What art truly was. Whether you meant to teach this lesson or not, or if you even agree with it. But that art is not how good one can draw or sculpt. It is what one can create, even if not physically. The human mind and spirit itself, and the uniqueness of each individual. You taught me this indirectly with your passion for just about everything you did. You would often times lecture for minutes before class about life, meaning, etc… this was my art lesson, even if often times I did not listen. It was more than that as well, it was not just solely your passion; it was not just the fact you could care about this or that, but the why, how, who, what, etc.. and your motivations and feelings, even if I disagreed with you. To me it was also a message that art and beauty is in just about everything in life, that it comes from the soul and all humans including myself are capable of creating such a beautiful world that spirits such as yours inspire to create others of equal yet different inspire. Later, I learned this on my own and through other things, books, people, as well after your class and school year, however your class was my foundation that I grew from.

I am not sure I described perfectly what I am meaning to say, or if I am making sense. However, what I wrote is an understatement. However, I do not want to go into too much detail because I am a writer, and I will spend hours trying to edit rather than just sending you the email.

Wow!  Tears came to my eyes.  What a gift at this moment in my career, when I feel I am at a low point.  But the real juice in this message is not for me alone.  I asked Steve if I could share his message with the art community at large.  He said yes – this is my response to his email:

Thank you for reaching out to me today.  My soul, spirit & passion have taken hard knocks this year; not from disinterested students, but from a constant barrage of disrespect and downright meanness from many of my students this year.  I should teach 2 more years to make it to my full retirement benefits, but I just can’t do it.  I am broken, and my passion is bruised, and I will say ridiculed by many of my present students.
You have given me the greatest gift a teacher can ever receive, acknowledgement (albeit after the fact) and sharing of your intellectual, mental, emotional & spiritual growth.  I consider myself a seed planter, constantly sowing seeds that I often don’t know will germinate.  To hear you express your understanding of the importance and nuances of art is confirmation to me that the power of art has sprouted in your soul and will continue to impact you as you navigate life.  Art is in our DNA.  It is the heartbeat of mankind.  The entire world can crumble, but man will continue expressing the human condition through art.
Thank you, Steve, for finding me and sharing your well articulated thoughts with me!   I am very proud of you that you are tapped into curiosity and a thirst for more.  It will serve you well, my friend.
I have a request.  I would like to make a blog post about this experience of a student seeking their teacher out with appreciation and gratitude.  You see, I’m not the only teacher who feels broken.  This story can provide hope and motivation at a time when teachers are at their lowest point.   Your generous expression of gratitude could ripple through the Universe to others.
This is the time of year when teachers are burned out, BUT are also beginning to think about the next school year.   Hope springs eternal as we imagine our next crop of students and rethink our curriculum and how we can present it in better, more effective ways.  This post is for all of the seed planters out there.  It’s time to order up a new batch of seeds to be planted in the fall.  You may have drought conditions, there is bound to be some stormy weather that unseats your solid footing, or there could even be an illness that creeps through your school.  Stand firm and hold on.  Your work is making an impact and is changing lives.  I hope someone looks for you, their former teacher.

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