I suffered through school. It scarred me, and I hated it. Teachers have let bureaucracy grip the classroom. Gaining tenure and benefits has too often trumped helping children find success. There are great teachers in our school systems, but how many of them have their talents placed in a position of irrelevance?
I'm sure this point of view will anger some, and will even be read as an insult by a few, but a dozen years in the system didn't do me a lot of good, and though there are few things in life I look upon cynically, school is one of them.
But five of my teachers were pivotal in making me who I am today. I owe them for my success as a person, and my success as an intelligent and thoughtful human being. They made school bearable, and gave learning purpose.
One of these teachers was my high school guidance councilor, who sacrificed a lot of her own time for me.
I met her at Wal-Mart today, in the bread aisle. I said hello, and twenty minutes later I felt I had connected with another person in a way I hadn't connected with anyone in quite a while. She's retired now, and though there's a forty+ year gap in our ages, I found that we still had a lot in common.
Maybe this common ground was what drew us together when I was younger, over ten years ago. I think so. I think she understood me.
I mentioned five teachers who were pivotal in my growth. Each of these teachers have two things in common. They were the only teachers who I feel understood who I was, what I dealt with emotionally, and who took the time out of their schedule to see me through, to give me even five minutes of one-on-one time, and who motivated me with love.
They were passionate about what they did, and that passion wore off on me.
Today my former teacher and I talked about some of these things, discussing how school fits some students, while others are left alienated and alone, surviving in a setting they find wholly uncomfortable, as I did. She admitted that she felt the same way, even as a teacher.
The role of guidance councilor fit her perfectly, as it left her to herself and allowed her to reach students one on one or in very small groups. Their guards let down, she was able to communicate with them in a way only a very rare teacher or parent can manage to communicate.
This was how we spoke to one another today, completely openly, honestly, genuinely.
So why, later, did I feel so vulnerable and scared?
While I spoke to her I was glued to that moment, giving not a care about anything other than what we were discussing. It was fun, and even more importantly, it was enlightening. I learned a lot in that short period of time—too short. I learned people still care, that I'm not alone, that there are others like me who feel the same way about the world, a little cynical and under pressure by a society who doesn't treat well its introverts, yet still fascinated by life.
When we said goodbye and walked away, my heart dropped. I had lost the confidence I had just gained, and felt demoralized and even a bit depressed.
I was keenly aware of life's impermanence. I was fourteen years old when I first met her. Ten years had traveled swiftly by, and we were both much older now.
But more so than anything else, I felt empty. I had opened my soul to another person, and though it was worth it, later I had no way to immediately close myself up again. I was leaking soul-matter all over Wal-Mart.
Is this why more people don't open up on a deeper level, connecting with each other how many people like myself wish they would? I'm a sharer. I have no trouble at all getting down to the nitty-gritty details of life. My closest friends know this, as I've shared things with them that are uncomfortable for both sharer and listener. Yet each time I open myself up I feel two things. I feel it is worth it, and later I feel guilty.
How can it be both? How can something so wonderful—connecting with someone—be so painful?
All I can say now that I've gotten hold of my emotions and have gradually found the good in what has happened today is that I want to make her proud of me. I want to make the other four teachers proud of me as well, even if I haven't spoken to some of them in nearly 20 years.
I want to do for others what they have done for me. I can do this through my writing, I know, since books provide such a rich learning experience for readers, and on that level I will be teaching, or at least sharing knowledge, but I want to go deeper than that.
I feel that I can repay their kindness by being, myself, a good person.
Patient, passionate, compassionate, confident. As they were.
If these five teachers have taught me anything, it's that we can change another person's life by doing something as simple as caring. A smile, a kind word, a minute of attention. Sometimes the smallest things make the most lasting gifts.
One teacher taught me to read and write, and another taught me to enjoy reading and writing. One teacher taught me to never doubt my talents, and another encouraged me to use them.
Today she reinforced that lesson.