My favorite teacher

Dear AE (initials only for privacy),

I saw your social media post announcing your retirement from teaching after an incredible 33 years. I know that we have not been in touch formally, though we are friends on Facebook. It seemed like given your exciting announcement it is the perfect moment to share with you what an incredible gift you gave me by being my teacher.

Without a doubt, when I am asked, “who was your favorite teacher,” your name quickly exits my lips, Mrs. E.  And no, I still won’t call you by your first name. If memory serves (and being that high school was few moons ago it is foggy), you taught me math for three years in high school. I think there may have been one horrendous semester when I had another instructor, such mistakes were only made once.

To say that math and I had a complicated relationship is to put it mildly. Though I was in the “advanced” math classes culminating in AP Calculus my senior year, math was always a struggle for me. I worked really hard, spent countless hours in your classroom after school getting extra help, and still struggled. I don’t think we ever figured out why I could solve a calculus problem on your whiteboard, but struggled on the lined paper and pencil at my desk. As your student you taught me that to a great educator sees every student for who they are and does everything within reason to see that lightbulb in their eyes that they understood the concepts. Maybe even more than the content is the process to get to that knowledge. You devoted countless hours to me and to so many of your other students and we are all better people for your unwavering devotion.

As an educator myself, I have been asked to identify a memorable moment in my own educational journey. It takes a few seconds for me to remember you sitting in your classroom in what was then the “new” wing at MHS. You were sitting on a stool at the overhead projector (yes I’m that old) teaching AP Calculus. You put down your pen, for some reason I remember green ink, and said, “Today is the most important day of your life. Today you learn that the integral is the reverse of a derivative,” and continued to prove to us why. [Full disclosure: I needed to search the internet to remember what was the reverse of a derivative]. If you could have played music and make fireworks explode for visual excitement on the overhead projector you would have done it. Math mattered so much to you and your excitement and energy for these concepts was infectious for all of your learners.

Mrs. E you went above and beyond to be present for your students. Due to my extensive after school hours working on math in your room we got to know one another pretty well. The holiday of Passover approached and you asked me some questions about my family’s observance that quickly led to an invitation to our family Seder for my remaining high school years.

My teenage years were not easy for me and there were some particularly difficult experiences at MHS. You support and the safe space you created for me in your classroom were a refuge for a young woman struggling to make her way through socially. Thank you for that, too.

I will never forget that you came to offer condolences to me after my mom died, I even tear up writing these words, 13 years after I graduated from high school. That lesson continues to guide me even these many years later. Good teachers show up when it matters most.

Mrs. E, if you will permit a rabbi (maybe your only student to be a rabbi??) to offer you a blessing on your retirement, it would be my honor.

May the abundant talents that you have continue to be blessings for all of those who you encounter as you enter this next fabulous phase of your life. May God continue to bless you with good health, abundance, precious time with family, and exciting adventures. May the blessings that you bestowed unto your hundreds of students come back to you as unexpected gifts and blessings on your journey. Amen.

If we are ever in the same city you and your family will always have a place of honor at my Passover Seder table, and should we see one another again, I will even make you those macaroons you liked so much. Congratulations on your much deserved retirement, Mrs. E!

About rabbisteinman

I am a rabbi living in North America. I was ordained from HUC-JIR. This is my blog.
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1 Response to My favorite teacher

  1. Mary Michaels says:

    What a wonderful tribute to Mrs. E., (my sister). Your words remind us that teachers change lives, and provide lessons that go beyond the classroom. I know that this means a lot to her. Thank you.

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