Listening to: my ears ring.
Reading: Facebook for the last 16 hrs.
Watching: my life pass before me.
Drinking: bitter dregs.
Dear Mr. Erz,
I wanted you to know some things.
I failed your algebra class in 9th grade, pretty much on purpose. I know. That's a fairly common story, and not that surprising. We clashed a little. I remember asking the typical questions, like "What will I ever use this for? I'm gonna be an artist!"
Here's the first irony of the story. I've never used algebra in my life except for fun. I got into war-gaming and had to figure out stuff like collision equations. It's the Algebra Teacher's Revenge.
But the real story here is what you didn't do. You didn't reject me, or look down on me, or nag me or drag me down. You just accepted my decision to be stupid and let it slide. This made for some of my fondest memories of school. Discussions about how the world works, playing chess with other students and trying to figure out your hanoi tower puzzle, all in an atmosphere of acceptance.
What this produced was that when the true irony of my life materialized, my profession as a teacher, it was your class that I emulated instinctively, without realizing it for many years. After all, I teach art in a junior high. What possible connection could that have to my high school algebra class, right?
It wasn't until I began to think about ways to make my kids more comfortable, more happy, more creatively stimulated, more accepted; until I began stretching outward and inward to achieve this ephemeral goal, that I unconsciously reached backward into my own past as a student.
The first things that came to mind were a chess set and a hanoi tower puzzle. It was an odd and unexpected image.
It was then that the realization hit me. It wasn't the toys, though my students love them. It was the complete and unconditional acceptance of me as a person; respect and tolerance for my drama and my laziness and my poor decisions. That was the key.
When I was in college, my professors often asked me to list people who inspired me as teachers, so that I could aspire to be like them.
I must confess, you were never on my lists. It was the dramatic and charismatic, the ones who, like fireworks, were always burning and exploding in my perception and memory.
Here's the tick, though, the catch, the twist. You were always there, Dale, under the surface. So pleasant, so quiet, so foundational that I had to mature before I could see your influence on me.
Of all the things my own students love and respond to, and I estimate that there's been around 5000 of them so far, it's the atmosphere of my class.
It's what they remember with fondness, with nostalgia and longing sometimes, when they are struggling with their higher level core classes, or with their daily jobs.
I've been teaching long enough now that the children of former students are beginning to appear at my door. Their expectations are high, having heard great things from their parents, their uncles and aunts and older brothers and sisters.
Sometimes their parents come with them, just to see me again. They enter my room with wonder, with anticipation, with wry smiles, as if knowing a private joke between us. Many of them come a few steps into my room, spin slowly to take it in, then sigh with a kind of relief.
"It's the same, it's still here, it's still good." You can see this in their faces, their stances. And they are wistful and happy.
This brings me joy and fulfillment and a pretty good reputation.
And I've not given you credit enough for it.
I'm honored to have carried forward your ideals and your passion for teaching and your genuine kindness.
I'm sorry it took me thirty years to say it.
Thank you, Dale.
Thank you, Mr. Erz.
Mt. Ogden Junior High