|Me and Jan Williams, my high school homeroom teacher|
Let me tell you a story about one of those teachers – my high school homeroom teacher, Jan Williams. I entered high school with the usual fears and doubts of the young. My first contact was, of course, with Jan, who very soon put her young charges at ease. Her voice was soothing. She gave us information. And she seemed to care. After checking in every morning and afternoon with her for a year or so, I grew accustomed to her anchoring presence. I even decided to take a class from her. Listening to her talk about British Literature fanned the little embers of love for all things literature that were sparking in me. When I heard she was teaching a Psychology course (which at the time, was new stuff for high schoolers), I jumped at the chance to enroll. In the course, we read progressive books like The Feminist Mystique; I’m Okay, You’re Okay; and Transcendental Meditation. This grounded teacher conducted weekly group therapy sessions with her students which set me on the path to self-awareness and improvement.
Not only did Jan teach well, she inspired and motivated me personally. I remember being at a conference with her and my mother. Jan asked me about my post-high school plans and I vaguely mentioned something about putting my newly-acquired typing skills to use as a secretary. Jan, gently, kindly, suggested that I think more broadly. She said something to the effect that someone with my abilities should go to college. It’s the first time I’d ever thought about college, but the idea, thankfully, took hold.
Last semester, while teaching a chapter of The Feminine Mystique to my college students, I started telling them about when I had first read the book. I told them about my wonderful high school teacher and how she had such an impact on my life. Somewhere in that soliloquy, I realized I had never told Jan Williams those things, that I’d gone on and graduated from high school and hadn’t looked back. I ended up finding her, newly-retired from the same school district. I pumped up my courage and wrote an email to her, hoping she’d remember me, but happy just to let her know the impact she had had on my life as a teenager and for years to come.
Happily, Jan read my email. And she was the same supportive, intelligent star. She answered me back and we began to correspond. She even came to my Shame the Devil book release event. She was happy to know that she’d made a difference, as any teacher is. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t told her earlier. It was so easy to do. And so right.
So, now, as school starts, and with so many people looking for ways to judge and harass teachers, think about the teachers in your life who have helped you become who you are. And if you can, take the time to let them know just that.