Friday, May 7, 2010

Miss Herrington

Dear Miss Herrington,

I have no idea who I pissed off in order to get you for a teacher THREE years in a row, and actually for TWO classes (English and French) Freshman year. But somehow, the stars aligned and you and I got to know each other whether we wanted to or not.

And, I'm so glad it worked out that way.

99% of my friends hated you. They all thought you were a miserable, lonely, old hag. They looked at you and saw a scowl on your face and a distaste for children in your eyes.

But I knew different.

Thank you for never putting up with my bullshit. Thank you for always staying consistent, no matter how much I flip-flopped with my behavior. I know I first tried to impress you, then I tried to ignore you, then I tried to piss you off, then I tried to befriend you. But you just stayed the course. You were polite but kept a safe distance. You indulged me when I shared personal secrets in my journal entries by not criticizing my immature choices.

Thank you for not letting me skate when I expected you would. You knew that letting me go unpunished for shameful behavior wasn't going to do me any good. I know it wasn't easy to keep up with me, considering I gave you a lot to work with, but you were always watching me. I never appreciated that watchful eye.

Thank you for being willing to be the most unpopular teacher. I know our high school was filled with the teachers who would regularly give students high-fives and get-out-of-detention-free passes. There were plenty of teachers who lowered expectations when the class didn't pull its weight on a test. There were even some who tried to be "one of us", like they were trying to get into the cool crowd at their own high school. But you didn't mind if we hated you. You knew it was not your job to be our friend. You understood that we had enough friends and it was your job to fill our heads with knowledge. And fill it, you did.

I'm so sorry I never stood up for you more often. Truthfully, I can't remember if these memories I have of you were present when I was in high school or if they are hindsight rearing its ugly head in the most painfully honest way. One thing I can tell you, with 100% certainty, is that you are the reason I became a teacher. Even way back in freshman year, I remember how much you loved your subject matter. I remember Dickens. I remember Romeo and Juliet. I remember Emily Dickinson. And I remember learning prayers in French. I remember seeing your photos of Paris. I remember your smile when we'd try - really hard - to get the accent just right.

Miss Herrington, I wish you were still at JFK, so I could come back and talk to you. I wish I could tell you all these things. I don't even know when you left. When I'd bump into fellow classmates, I would casually mention your name and ask if anyone knew anything. Always the same answer: Oh, I just hated her. I have no idea what happened to her. Who cares.

I cared.

I heard you passed away. I would have come to the funeral. I would have told your family what a difference you made in my life. You knew more about me than most of my friends did. You changed me and sent me in a direction that I always knew I wanted to go, but never felt motivated until I understood what a good teacher can mean to a hungry student.

You were that teacher, and I was that hungry student.

For all of my (too-short) 5 years teaching high school math, I thought of you. I took what was good about you and tried to make it a part of myself. I kept a passion for my subject and I shared it with my students. I tried to remain consistent. I was strict but fair. I was firm but gentle. Just like you.

But, I did try to smile a little more often. I hope that's okay.

This post was a part of MamaKat's Writer's Workshop.

Mama's Losin' It

I'm also contributing to Foursons Letters of Intent


Gigi said...

What a great letter! I'm sorry you never got to tell her in person. It's wonderful that you had such a great teacher who inspired you in your career choice and was a mentor of sorts.

Grandma Susan said...

I loved this story. As a teacher of 39 years, I feel gratified when I hear that I made a difference in a student's life. Sorry Miss Herrington didn't but I imagine that she really did at the time.

Anna See said...

Loved, loved, loved this! What a difference she made in your life, and what a difference you made in your students' lives. My teaching career was short, too-- only 6 yrs, but I hope I made a difference, too.

StephieMae said...

I have a teacher that was just like that in my life. I think we all do :D I love what an impact just one individual, one voice - can have on the rest of our lives! Thanks for the comment. Have a fab Friday!

Foursons said...

Beautiful letter. I love teachers who have shaped our lives for the better. I know you wrote this for Mamakat but if you'd like to link up to my Letters of Intent today it's perfect!

Foursons said...


Sturgmom said...

Absolutely beautiful!

Beth said...

That was just perfect!

Jennifer said...

Beautiful. I bet she is beaming in heaven.

Wendy said...

Why don't you send her family a note & let them know what she meant to you?

A very nice letter.