April 22, 2012 9:04 PM   Subscribe

Teacher-student relationships are so incredibly powerful at both ends. This is a beautiful story that does a great job of illustrating how much a factor time can play in the lessons our teacher try to instill in us. Thanks to all the teachers who made me a better person, and blessings and love to my students who have let me know I didn't screw them up.

Sister Mary Ann Patrice, I have remained a shitty, shitty liar since the 2nd grade when you caught me in the act: I am grateful and remain a shitty, shitty liar proudly so this day, and ended up at a the very best grad school due to your hard and painful lesson.
posted by smirkette at 9:16 PM on April 22, 2012 [5 favorites]

Wow, I bet almost everyone has one of these stories, one of those people carelessly tossed aside whose name and face haunts us many years later. Tearful.

I've gotten apologies from people who abused me in high school. One of them was so heartfelt and well-timed that I felt something hard inside me just disintegrate and vanish forever, a weight I hadn't known I was carrying. This was that girl who'd once had her boyfriend call my house and tell me that they were going to come over and drag me outside and beat me up in front of my parents. But weirdly, I have forgiven her personally and choose to lay the blame for that incident on the town itself in which we grew up.

There was one though, like, the MAIN guy who was worse than any of them, and the letter I got from him made me so angry. I wrote back and told him that I certainly accepted the apology because as far as I was concerned, it was a miracle that I was still alive thanks to his handiwork, and that I hoped he would remember that every time he had an opportunity as a Mormon and a Republican to make life harder for people like me.

I checked in with another of my gay high school friends -- he'd gotten a similar letter from the same dude. "Reeks of 12 step program," was his verdict. So, sometimes there's that.
posted by hermitosis at 9:17 PM on April 22, 2012 [27 favorites]

This is great timing for me. I have been thinking a lot about apologies lately.
posted by roboton666 at 9:22 PM on April 22, 2012

That's a nice story and I like that the reporter frames it by saying how common it is to be haunted by your past unkindnesses, even when they're minor or the other person isn't going to remember them as being a huge deal.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:27 PM on April 22, 2012

That was a great story. Small scale drama at its best.

But damn, I wish the reporter had gotten in contact with that girl he and his class had been unkind to. That one tore at my heart too.
posted by Mercaptan at 9:30 PM on April 22, 2012 [7 favorites]

Great story.

I apologized to my teacher too (here's the comment with the story), but thank goodness I didn't have to wait decades for it.
posted by vidur at 9:47 PM on April 22, 2012

Vidur, you never mentioned if the teacher wrote back?
posted by smoke at 9:52 PM on April 22, 2012

I recently ran into an elderly couple with their middle-aged son at the laundromat. The couple was friends of my parents, but I didn't know their son, I didn't even know they had a son. We were chatting and their son started talking to me like we knew each other. I was very confused, especially when he told me he wished he hadn't bullied me when we were in the same class in elementary school. I had no recollection of him whatsoever. But he remembered me.

I'm not quite sure what to think about that. This guy must have thought I was standing there being polite to him while thinking about all the evil he did to me, and I wasn't, but he was.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:52 PM on April 22, 2012

The last line of this story is a killer.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:59 PM on April 22, 2012 [10 favorites]

Vidur, you never mentioned if the teacher wrote back?

He did. I think typing that comment out made me nervous enough to have forgotten to include that.

I am looking his response right now. He said that my email had made his day, and that my doing well and using what he had taught us was thanks enough.
posted by vidur at 10:04 PM on April 22, 2012 [6 favorites]

It's been 20 years since I left high school and there are teachers who shaped the person I turned into, so I'm not surprised that he receives mail on a regular basis from old students. For my part, thank you Mr. Burton and Mr. Preece.
posted by arcticseal at 10:05 PM on April 22, 2012

I've never been able to find Mrs. Gloria Hann so I could thank her for letting me and the other weirdos come eat lunch in her classroom every day at lunch. It was a safe spot for us, and she seemed greatly amused by us. Having worked as a (substitute) teacher myself, I can barely imagine giving up one of the few bits of alone-time permitted by my schedule to baby-sit a gaggle of gay nerds. But it was a big help to us, and I'll never forget her name or her face, or the fact that she had our class read Ray Bradbury's "Dandelion Wine."
posted by hermitosis at 10:08 PM on April 22, 2012 [20 favorites]

I was at a little (like, a dozen or so people) local reunion of some college classmates just before last Christmas. One of them, K., had been a pretty good friend for a while in school, though because (I thought) of scheduling things, we didn't see much of each other after our junior year.

Except, at the bar where we were all meeting, she came up to me and said she had wanted to apologize to me for decades for how she treated me after I came out. What I thought was just busy-school-life stuff - and I was all wrapped up in my own drama at the time anyway - was her backing away because I came out as a dyke. And she'd felt terrible about this, regretted it, since 1987. It was remarkable.
posted by rtha at 10:09 PM on April 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

When I was in junior high, I was part of the geek crowd. Well, we weren't a crowd. We were the table of rejects. Star Trek, Monty Python, SCTV, Doctor Who, Dr. Demento, these were our language, unshared with anyone else at school.

Then we had another at our table. We were awkward; he was awkward raised to a new level. He would make jokes that fell flat to us. He was mixed race. He wore smelly, dirty clothes. He lived in the back of a cinder block building that was half garage, half carpet store. He was clingy. He had only rudimentary knowledge of Star Trek; I think he was into superhero comic books, when none of us really was. He was desperate for our approval, and we never gave it to him. I only found out where he lived because he begged me to walk home with him as he expected to be whipped and if he arrived with someone he could avoid that. Although we were open-minded, we had no real familiarity with the sort of home life he apparently had. In the end -- though we weren't cruel to him; it was mainly passive -- we rejected him enough that he even stopped coming to our lunch table and trying.

Then we found he had hanged himself in a closet by a belt.

Yeah, I'd write that letter today, if I could.
posted by dhartung at 10:11 PM on April 22, 2012 [39 favorites]

I taught English at alternative high schools for several years. I had a student who was a constant pain, very self-centered and obnoxious. I always felt that there was potential for good in him, but he was, shall we say, trying at times.

He accused me of physically harming him when I picked up a knife he had dropped in the hall. I was lucky that I was not fired , but I remained under suspicion , even after he was suspended. Upon his return to school I told him that we could start over and we had a truce of sorts. He left school to go to rehab in another state and I heard good things about him and was happy.

When he returned to Colorado he emailed me and apologized for his behavior and accusation. I accepted his apology. Nothing makes a teacher feel better than hearing positive feedback from old students
posted by Isadorady at 10:21 PM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

What a great story.

But damn, I wish the reporter had gotten in contact with that girl he and his class had been unkind to. That one tore at my heart too.

So did I!
posted by SisterHavana at 11:31 PM on April 22, 2012

I was pretty low on the social spectrum at high school, but not at the absolute bottom. I was in the category of not having many friends and getting picked on, but there were others who were a long way down from that -- either super poor, like the girl in his story, or with a visible disability, or some other aspect of social awkwardness that brought out the bullies.

I'll be honest: things were bad enough for me as it was that I was terrified of somehow getting myself recategorized further down the pecking order. Getting punched routinely wasn't much fun, but that was a million times better than being the guy who would get depantsed and then stuffed into a trash can in the cafeteria almost every day. I will forever be proud that I never took part in tormenting anyone, but equally I'll never be proud that I sat there and watched, and never said anything. (Of course, so did the teachers -- these things always happened publicly, and as far as I can remember no one was ever punished, no matter how egregious the offense.)

But even so, if I had to write a letter, it would be to everyone I watched get tormented and said nothing because I knew I was safe only in the most precarious of ways. And in the very final weeks of my last year there, I suddenly became friends with some of them, and it made our lives better and safer; I wish I had had the courage to make those friendships years earlier.
posted by Forktine at 12:00 AM on April 23, 2012 [6 favorites]

In high school, I was a bright but lazy student and didn't show my teachers much respect, often staring at the wall or reading or doing something other than paying attention to their lesson. I very much doubt they wanted to be there any more than I did, and I recognize now the very least I could have done was to pay a bit more attention, acknowledging that someone was trying to give me something of value. I'm sorry about that. Everyone deserves a base amount of respect, and I couldn't even give that.
posted by maxwelton at 12:13 AM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

There is clearly some sort of dust situation in this room I am sat in, terrible stinging in the eyes.
posted by Augenblick at 1:27 AM on April 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm always hoping that I do well with my son to emphasize that yeah, school and grades and sports are important, but above all that is character. For now, it seems to be working and he's a good little guy who cares about others but he's also young enough not to know that sometimes, standing up for the kids that are bully fodder means that you will be aligned with them and become them in the end, picked on and bullied right alongside. Still, I hope that what he knows now sticks.

If it doesn't and if one day, he sees that in school, where kids are vicious little bastards sometimes, it's easier to say nothing at all, I'm hopeful from this story and by the comments here that he'll grow up and realize not standing up was a mistake and that you're always allowed to make amends, no matter how long it's been.

GREAT story...
posted by youandiandaflame at 5:15 AM on April 23, 2012

"Larry, this is your teacher."

I bet that was some conversation. Difficult, perhaps, but good for both of them.

On a high school bus I once made a casual joke which was greeted with intakes of breath and boos. I sank down in my seat while I tried to figure out what I'd said. I never really forgot the feeling of having done something terrible but I didn't know what.

Twenty years passed until suddenly the memory sprang back into my head (as it frequently did) along with the realization I'd said something terribly racist -- and unfunny -- when to my own mind I was making a very simple joke. For the next two years I tried to find the person I'd spoken to until I finally found them on Facebook, and I apologized, and they claimed not to remember it.

I sure hope they were being honest and not just mature, because it was a tough thing for me to carry that long and would have been a lot worse for them to drag around for two decades.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:06 AM on April 23, 2012

"When it comes to apologies, no one gets a pass in this life. Everyone deserves one, and everyone needs to give one."

So true. What a great story.
posted by headnsouth at 7:18 AM on April 23, 2012

Goddammit but the pain of anti-gay discrimination just never stops, does it? I was halfway through this heartwarming student of reaching out to an old teacher, smiling, when the article gets to the cause of the need for apology. The anti-gay bullying, the efforts to fire gay teachers. This all happened just 35 years ago, still hasn't been made right, and it makes me fucking angry. But stories like this help; Hallman's narrative, Israelson's apology, Atteberry's acceptance. It's a sort of reconciliation.

In the photos Atteberry is smiling, in a nice house, with a lovely cat. And a wedding ring. I like to think he told that bigoted town who wanted to fire him to fuck off, went off on his own, did well for himself, and married some fabulous hunky man who's absolutely in love with him.
posted by Nelson at 7:32 AM on April 23, 2012 [17 favorites]

And I bet the dad never changed his opinion a whit. :7(
posted by wenestvedt at 8:44 AM on April 23, 2012

i actually have a hammer that one of my high school teachers lent me to complete a disiplinary project. i didn't realize until much later that the hammer was his personally and not property of the school. i never got around to giving it back.

i've tried over the years but his common name makes him hard to find. no one at the school has any idea. so ralph, i've got your hammer. --chop.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 8:49 AM on April 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Crying At My Desk Filter
posted by littlerobothead at 8:55 AM on April 23, 2012 [6 favorites]

> Wow, I bet almost everyone has one of these stories, one of those people carelessly tossed aside whose name and face haunts us many years later. Tearful.

In my elementary school, there was a little boy named Dean who was cute as a button and very quiet. His mom dressed him in suits/bowties for school every day (not a good thing in public school), and he also peed his pants all the time, which was why he had only two friends — me and a boy in our class. The other kids picked on him a lot, but we were always there to defend him. I remember, it's what we did every single recess: protected Dean from the mean boys, and in return he taught us Japanese words and some origami (his dad was in the army and he'd lived in Japan, which was the most impressive, exotic thing I could even think of). Pee or no pee, the other boy and I would always hold hands with him when we walked because we were so proud to be his friend. Also, the three of us sat next to each other in the front row of the class because we were the advanced readers. Very visible.

Here follows what I recognize to be the worst judgment call of my seven years: one day, after he'd just peed his pants at his desk, I swiftly whipped up a little origami boat and floated it in the puddle under his chair. I remember that my intent was to try to cheer him up and make the other kids stop pointing at him and laughing. Ugh, half-formed brain... kids...

The result was nearly the opposite of what I expected, of course. All the kids laughed louder, and even the teacher chuckled (ugh). Dean began crying so hard the teacher sent him out of class. Later, from the windows, we saw his mom come and pick him up from school; to my eyes she appeared to be very unhappy. I felt so ashamed of myself, and I was afraid he was going to get a spanking. I later apologized to him, and we were friends again, but he wouldn't teach us any more paper folding. The next school year, he was gone and I never saw him again. I guess his family moved; for a while I wondered if they'd moved because of what I'd done.

I am haunted by that event. That kid probably moved every year or two, made a friend or two in each new place if he was lucky... and I wonder how many of those kids, out of ignorance, further challenged his idea of friendship the way I had. Ooof, think of the repercussions.
posted by heyho at 11:31 AM on April 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

Wow, I don't think I blamed the reporter so much as the teacher for the gift-giving incident in his story. What an awful ritual, showing off gifts in front of everyone and naming the giver. Way to screw up the positives in a secret santa.
posted by jacalata at 12:45 PM on April 23, 2012 [7 favorites]

I have a lot to apologize for. Not anything specific really... I can't remember any exact events when I did something absolutely terrible (though of course that doesn't mean none happened). But I was generally an ass all through high school, and there was no good reason for it; I had friends, I was relatively well-liked, I was good at sports and school and blahblahblah, but I was highly antisocial with bouts of intense gregariousness and I think I confused everyone around me. Later I'd find out I'm bipolar, but in the teen years the depression was strong and the mania was the sort that was irritable and viciously snippy and holier-than-thou. Yeah. I have a lot of shitty attitude and behavior to apologize for.

It's not an apology, but after I shipped off to college things started to slip in a much more intense way. My old pediatrician who had been my primary care my entire life (he knew me and my brother so well there was no need to get a different doctor) had kept an eye on me through high school and when I'd been somewhat-mistakenly prescribed Prozac (ha haaaaaa that was a fun year), and after a year and a half of me being away and not seeing him he emailed me for no particular reason. Just to say hello and ask how I was doing. Despite the fact that I'd thought I gave a chipper response it was apparently bad enough that he called my parents and (without divulging anything at all) told them that they needed to call me. As soon as possible.

So I broke down, basically, and it's a good thing everything came together when it did. New diagnosis, new medicine, and everyone informed enough to cope and help me cope. I send him a Christmas card every year. I send him postcards with my pictures from the trips I've gone on. I update him on my degree progress. He's probably tired of hearing it, but every time I write him I tell him that he saved my life, because without his well-timed and out-of-the-blue email I am pretty sure I wouldn't be here. You really can't ever sufficiently thank someone for something like that.

My ten-year high school reunion is this upcoming weekend. I've been debating going for the past few months. I had two friends who I considered really close and who put up with so much crap from me, but neither will be there. The rest of my classmates I like just fine but I'm not sure how well we can relate; the last time I tried to interact with them it was mostly silence, as they're all married with kids and within an hour of our hometown, and I'm. Well, not any of those things.

Maybe I'll go, though. Maybe I can make up for something, or at least find some common ground.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 2:45 PM on April 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

This is reminding me of a story that I'm not quite sure fits here. My junior year English teacher was one of those teachers. The kind you thank when you're winning your Oscar. (Not meaning he was gay, just really, really important and good and kind.) He loved American Lit, loved teaching, was an amateur paleontologist, was an actual championship knife-thrower and volunteered to help in exrtra-curriculars like crazy.

He was also in charge of, in our case, one of the most brilliant groups of eleventh-graders you could hope to find. He had two AP classes to teach, but the split-up was bizarrely one-sided with all of the deviously creative and manipulative smart-asses going to one class and none to the other. Basically, when we wanted to, we could fucking own this guy. He adored us and we him but we were the not-quite-adults who controlled the situation when we wanted to, which is the only way this story occurred.

It was either the second-to-last day of the year, and Mr. Core was doing sociological thought experiments with us, one of which was to give us a list of bios and have us pick out seven of the people described to be sent to start up a newly-terraformed planet. Then we all discussed our selections. I remember getting into a longish argument about my choices, which leaned perhaps too much towards multi-culturalism over practical concerns of survival, but it was a cool discussion.

Anyway, the next day, the last day, he's giving us the speech about having never taught a class nearly as gifted as this one, the speech every teacher gives, but this time it's utterly 100% sincere, and he's near tears, and there's just good feelings going all around, which must be how we convinced him to let us do the thought experiment with our classmates.

I don't know at what point it dawned on him just how cruelly awful an idea that was, but by then we had control over the classroom and there was seemingly nothing he could do about it. In the end, out of the twenty or so of us in the class there were a couple names that ended up on every list (the two kids who had gotten perfect SAT scores, naturally.) I came in 3rd or 4th, which I was quite happy with. But then there was the girl, Shannon I believe was her name, who appeared on only two people's lists. Last in the class. She was a shy and awkward redhead with a default expression of looking like she wanted to be anywhere else, and now the eyes of everyone in the room were on her, bottom of the list in our sanctioned, last-day-of-school popularity contest.

So to Shannon, I want to apologize for being part of the very vocal minority who got that horrible game rolling. I can't imagine how heartbreaking that must have been.

But there's a reason I'm praising Mr. Core so much, and it's how he handled things from there. He ran through the names at the top of the rankings, giving the obvious reasons he knew we had been chosen. And then he asked the two girls who had chosen Shannon - two girls who both sat right next to her - why they had picked her. They talked about her positive qualities and the fact that while she doesn't talk much, they know her well enough. He then asked the rest of us why we hadn't, trusting in our assessment of how embarrassing this must have been that we would be kind, and we were. We weren't purposefully excluding anyone, and certainly not her, but we just didn't really know her.

And so Mr. Core then transformed this horrible situation into making a spotlight for Shannon, while also teaching her that people genuinely liked her if they got to know her. By the end, she wasn't looking hurt, or like she wanted to be anywhere else. She was, for the only time I ever saw it, smiling.

So Mr. Core, thank you for that.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:06 PM on April 23, 2012 [124 favorites]

I was picked on and beat up a lot in school but somewhere in my 30s I managed to get over the anger and put it behind me. What I've never been able to put behind me is the shame I feel that I picked on people even weaker than me, in one case contributing to abusing a kid so much he transferred to a school in a different town. I was a dumbass kid, maybe 14, so I can chalk it up to that, but I still wish I could take it all back.

I found out that kid, his name is Doug, became a Marine and manned a machine gun on a helicopter, serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Through a Facebook connection, I've seen his picture and he looks like a large, happy, well adjusted guy. He had a lovely wife or girlfriend on his arm. I assume he's living a good life despite everything he went through, just as I am. Still, I always think of sending him a note of apology but I'm afraid of what his reply would be. He's killed people, I doubt he even remembers me. I guess my payback for tormenting him as a kid will be always wondering how an apology would go over as an adult.

Sorry, Doug.
posted by bondcliff at 7:23 PM on April 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

Gah, Navelgazer. What a great story. Those teachers are a subject I've really enjoyed discussing with friends over the years.

Mine was sixth grade. Lois Smith. She just went by L. Smith, though. A short, intense-looking woman with black hair. I was fresh out of elementary school, and had been through some intense trauma a couple years earlier. I was bright, had been on the Odyssey of the Mind / Spelling Bee / Geography Bee / Math Counts / AIMS etc etc track for elementary school, but I had no real personality. I was still shell-shocked and just liked getting the positive reinforcement of good marks.

So I come into middle school, and L. Smith is teaching Reading. Yes, Reading. It would be impossible to convey the nature of her classroom, so a couple bits:

She had us make papier-mâché maces and morning stars. Showed us films like Monty Python and the Holy Grail, DragonHeart (kyle, the wheat boy!), and old Star Treks. I walked in once and she had a plastic ziplock bag filled with fudge, and was exclaiming "What's brown and sounds like a bell? DUUUUUNG! DUUUUUNG!". She clapped delightedly when my friend and I drew a sideways cross section of the Enterprise with visual word gags. For example, 10-Forward was represented by the word forward written ten times. The bridge was the Golden Gate, crew's quarters was a lady holding change, ad nauseum. Heh.

She brought in these tiny paper envelopes with Dune quotations on them, and inside were little red hot candies. When questioned, she would only respond, "The spice must flooooooooow...."

She once had us all make models of castles when reading Arthurian legends and studying the history of fortress layout strategies. My father and I made it together in his workshop. We constructed a fairly badass double walled fort with working portcullis, drawbridges. Toilet paper rolls with wedges cut out for the turret tops, all spray painted with that textured gray flecked stuff to make it look cool. That was probably the most one-on-one time I can remember that my father and I spent together following the attack, and it was pretty rad. I kept it for 10 years before it was accidentally damaged in a storm that hit the attic.

She once put up signs all over the hall that looked like WARNINGS for "Dihydrogen Monoxide". Ah, yep, there it is. She liked puzzles and brain-twisters. She encouraged skeptical, rational thinking as a fun thing to do.

The unifying thread is, of course, fantasy and literature. Lord, the books. She started on me with Dune, which in retrospect I am a touch proud of her faith in me.

I devoured that fucking book.

One of the first memories I have of real solid anger was sitting in the waiting room after getting an eye exam on day two of having been lent Dune, and being close to tears because I couldn't make my damn eyes focus and read the next chapter. They were too dilated, and I was powerless.

Next came Douglas Adams. I still have the copy of Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul that she gave me on the shelf. I had already cut my teeth on Tolkien and Lewis, so she pushed some Anne McCaffrey and Mary Stewart on me. She really helped to solidify my confidence and ownership of these passions and interests, and kept me delighted and curious and happy and safe in the tumult of adjusting to what was a fairly rough public school.

Beyond helping to shape my tastes, refine my analytical side and stoke my curiousity, she handed me a friend for life. You see, I was pretty obviously marked out for bullying and abuse from my peers at this school. I found out years later, L. Smith also thought that I was gay. She knew of another student, whom she knew was gay, that was a year above me. She arranged for him to snag me out of a homeroom period and show me the computer lab, I think it was, so we could meet. We already had been informed through various friends that we had similar interests in Dungeons and Dragons and fantasy stuff, so it was sort of built up. Though it became clear pretty quickly that I was 'not as he' in that regard, we became fast friends, inseparable for years and years and remain friends to this day. He was brilliant, the 1600 SAT sort of person, and I was competitive already in that area, so I was felt pushed and motivated to do well. And I did.

A year later I would wreck my knee in a skiing accident and wear a big Forrest Gump brace for 6 months, 1 of them in a wheelchair. After I was done healing, L. Smith took me aside and asked if she could have the brace. It was then I found out that she had a son at home that was...ill. I think it was MS. He was bedridden some of the time and I guess being a teacher doesn't pay that great in South Carolina, so a barely-used shiny new big-ass leg brace was something they could use. I brought it to school the next day.

Thanks, L. Smith. And thank you to all the teachers, of all styles, that dedicate their work lives to teaching kids. We really do take this stuff in, sometimes.
posted by lazaruslong at 9:38 PM on April 24, 2012 [34 favorites]

Wow, lazaruslong, that's an outstanding teacher.

I was fortunate enough to have a glut of them myself. Apparently my story about Mr. Core (which didn't even touch on a group of us singing along to "Lola" on the way back from a OM trip in his car) has already been sidebarred, so maybe I should quit while I'm ahead, but I've got a few more shout-outs.

Mrs. Stye, English, 10th Grade: She should have been a college professor. And a good one. In any case, she treated us as if we were a high-level college class, and dropped us into the deep-end, assigning a group of 15-year-olds A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man on the first day, and then followed that up with Siddartha. And she was good enough that we followed along. In Oklahoma, the curriculum was to have 11th grade be American Lit, and 12th grade English Lit, so she made 10th Grade be Lit from everywhere else. She challenged us like no one else did, but kept us on pace, and probably deserves a medal.

Granger Meador, Physics, 12th Grade: Like a young Robin Williams teaching the class, but far less irritating. Fairly regular on the "Teacher of the Year" short-lists, I don't know if he ever got the award. Able to spin tales about following Devo or Adam Ant in his younger days into illustrations of freefall graphics and other subjects. Relentlessly entertaining. Kept several drawers full of toys not just for instruction but so that he could nail a nerf-ball into the head of a kid not paying attention. Held a party for his graduating seniors every year and, when selected to be our commencement speaker, had his voice falter for the first time I noticed, choking up to see another class gone away from him.

(I should give an honorable mention here to Mrs. Robinson, my 12th Grade English teacher, who talked up a kid in one of her classes who she said was getting a D, but who was the brightest kid she had ever taught, and who she'd be happiest to see if she were wheeled into surgery, even if the kid had no medical training. A friend of mine was in that class, and confirmed with her that she was talking about me, and then she fudged things enough to give me an improbable A at the end of the semester anyway. So thanks!)

But my final shout-out must be for:

Susan Crabtree, Drama/Stagecraft, 10-12th grades: An almost comically no-nonsense woman who always smelled like coffee and cigarettes, in the good way that one must live a life in theatre to recognize. Childless (at least at the time) she was fierce in her adoption of those who gave their time and effort to her class and the extra-curriculars involved in it. In a way, I think all decent drama teachers have this instinct, to know that the nature of their kids is going to be that they have aspects of their lives that they hide from their parents, but she involved herself so deftly, so kindly, so thoroughly and without ever losing her take-no-shit edge that earned our respect. I remember when I first started dating my high school girlfriend, and she pulled us over on the bus to talk, so that she could give her tentative blessing. I remember her fighting for us to be able to have room in the budget to do actual shows. I remember her pulling us out to her house on weekends to work on pieces. I remember when I was having a particularly rough day, and she wrote me a pass to get out for the rest of the day, and gave me the keys to her truck, so that I could just drive around and work it out.

Teachers never get enough credit, and there are things they can do which would never do on a written record of the ways they have touched students lives. My love goes out to those teachers who keep sticking their necks out anyway.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:02 AM on April 25, 2012 [7 favorites]

One of my biggest bullies in school sent me an apology via Facebook. She had her reasons, and I know them now, but at the time, it was awful. She sent me a reasonable apology and I sent her a reasonable acceptance with a "aw, hell, teenagers are dumb" response, and that was the truth. The fact that she sent me an apology at all kind of floored me for a couple of days. I took some time and figured out that I'd already forgiven her, because her stuff was more messed up than mine in the long run.

It was the fact that I'd already forgiven her without dwelling on it that surprised me.

I've been through some other abusive crap and letting it go is HARD. But that's what it takes to get well it seems.
posted by lilywing13 at 1:43 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I realize this is slightly OT, but it seems as good a place to post it as any. In the novel, Black Swan Green by David Mitchell, the central character is bullied. Noticing the student's pain, a teacher sends him on an errand to 'pick up a whistle' at the teacher's desk in the staff room. On the desk is a pile of photocopied documents, clearly left to be seen and taken, and the student picks one up.

The document reads:

Contrary to popular wisdom, bullies are rarely cowards.

Bullies come in various shapes and sizes. Observe yours. Gather intelligence.

Shunning one hopeless battle is not an act of cowardice.

Hankering for security or popularity makes you weak and vulnerable.

Which is worse? Scorn earned by informers? Misery earned by victims?

The brutal may have been moulded by a brutality you cannot exceed.

Let guile be your ally.

Respect earned by integrity cannot be lost without your consent.

Don't laugh at what you don't find funny. Don't support an opinion you don't hold.

The independent befriend the independent.

Adolescence dies in its fourth year. You live to be eighty.

It's clear to me that Mr. Mitchell and many of us owe a great debt to our teachers.
posted by lalochezia at 7:22 AM on April 25, 2012 [6 favorites]

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