Oh, was my nose red this morning. Rudolph, eat your heart out!! It was nasty out there this morning–cold, wet, dready–even though I went out fairly late. I’m allowed. We’re in our between quarter break. The biting air is the vanguard of the coming of an arctic blast that should reach us tomorrow. They say there is whiff of light snow in the air. Thank goodness there was no wind. Everything is wet from yesterday’s heavy rain. A heavy, icy fog enveloped and clung to everything like an opaque, soggy shroud. The mist gathered into drops and fell in irregular rythms and dissonant sounds a musical background to the beat of my feet.
Yet, I didn’t really notice the penetrating chill all that much. I was bundled up tight in my winter grubbies looking like a mobile rag bag. But even more so, I was warmed by an inner glow still fueled by Trudy’s card and now fed even more by a poignant e-mail message I had received yesterday from a student I’ll call Patrick who was in one of my classes last year. Both these nice people warmed me and had me thinking this morning.
This is what Patrick unexpectedly wrote me from north Georgia last night:
Read your last message about Trudy. Neat card. Save it. But, I want you to know that she wasn’t alone. I don’t know why I’m writing this to you. I’ve never done this before, especially with a professor before. I’m not a good writer. Oops, sorry about the “not a good” stuff. I call just hear what you’re about to say. Maybe I’ve never had a teacher who deserved it and I guess I know how you’ll take it. And I guess it’s the spirit of the Christmas season, and I want to give you another gift just like Trudy said you are a gift to so many of us. I’ve wanted to come in and say this for a while, but didn’t have the guts. Trudy gave me the courage to do it. Here goes. Here is my Christmas gift to you.
I know, I only got a C in the course. I deserved it. I know that now. That was your first gift to me. I screwed up and realize now that I had only myself to blame. Can’t blame you like I once did and have blamed so many other teachers. Damn, because of you, I can’t blame any teacher anymore for my attitude and performance. Like you said, the attitude comes from within, and I’m a slave if I let someone else like a teacher decide for me whether I’ll be bored or excited in a class.
Yes, in spite of my lousy grade and thinking I could pull the wool over your eyes with a lot of bullshit, you pulled it over mine. I do remember a lot of history from that class, a hell of a lot more than I thought I would and more than I dreamed of. And so did a lot of others. In many respects, you tricked us into performing and learning by letting us have fun doing it so that it all sorts of creeps up on us without us knowing. But, you know what? Learning all that history is important. But, I, and I think a lot of others will always remember more your spirit. No, it is your love for each of us. Boy, you are smart. You know your stuff, but I think everything that goes on in our class and how you get under people’s skin is a result of your love more than what you know about history. That sounds so corny, I know, but it’s true. That is what I will remember most –and what is more important for my future since I can always go somewhere to get the facts–is what you teach us each about ourselves. I’m not saying this just about me. I’ve talked with many of the others in our class and with a bunch of students from your other classes, and most say the same things.
You teach us that we “can”–and you don’t let us “can’t” without a fight–and you do it with your spirit, yes, but it’s your love that guides your spirit into words and actions. I remember and will always remember your simple words you always had for me, that you hammered at me, and heard you say them to others: “I care and I have a shoulder and an ear, and you are welcome to them anytime.” “You can do it.” “Believe and take the risk of making a mistake. And if turns out to be a mistake, learn from it. Do that and it will not be a mistake.” “You will surprise yourself more than you will me.” I didn’t believe that that you meant it then. I guess as a bullshiter all I could believe was that everyone else was throwing the BS around. wrote a nasty letter to some student in the next quarter. Sorry, about that. I wish I could take it back. Now I see now how right you are. If I came out of your class with anything, I think it is that one word, believe. You really got to me–eventually. It just took time for it to get past my thick skull.
To you, teaching is love. Damn, I can’t believe I’m saying all this to you. I feel like I’m writing a daily journal for class. Well, I’ve started and gone this far. I may as well finish and get it all off my mind. I’ve been wanting to say this for a while, but didn’t have the guts until I read Trudy’s note in her card.
You are support for all of us–but not the sort that robs us of the strength and ability we have, not the sort that blocks us from reaching for our potential. No, you are the kind of support and encouragement that shows us how to find and then build on our ability and strength, and maintain that new found part of us–that ability and potential many of us didn’t believe we had and was holding us back–that needs encouragement. You are there with us, not on the sidelines like some silly cheerleader and not hovering above with your degree in your hand a superior and master. You are coach, friend, equal, just another person who, like you once said, puts on his pants one leg at a time just like each of us. Yes, for you teaching is love.
See you next year for a Tootsie Pop.
Lots of love back,
At one point, in my walk as I fought impending frostbite with warm thoughts of Patrick, I turned around and walked backwards to see the tracks I had left behind on the damp asphalt street. I did this weird maneuver to once again remind myself of that Dakota saying, “We will be known forever by the tracks we leave?” These native Americans were talking about leaving a mark on someone’s spirit, a track on their soul, not a book on a library shelf or an award in a bookcase or a title on a door or a name on a building.
I share these treasures because Trudy and Patrick got me to thinking about just who are those teachers from whom students learn best. I think Patrick hit the nail on the head. I think those teachers from whom students learn best are the ones who have something more than knowledge although that is a very important ingredient. Even more important, I think, the most effective teachers are those who, in addition to their intelligence and knowledge, because of experiences which altered or focused their sight or some strange gift of human insight or wisdom or just a simple case of love, are able to speak from their spirit to the spirit of the students, from their soul to the soul of the students, from their heart to the hearts of their students. These teachers have the power to touch because they stand–honest and real and human–openly of themselves for us to look at; they expose the soul of their humanity, with all of their frailities and foibles, for us to peer into; they become vulnerable for our sakes, and in so doing serve us. It is these people who reach out to students and touch them that students remember; students remember their words more because of their compassion, hmanity, and their spirit. It is from the likes of these people that students best learn.
And so, Patrick, like Trudy, reminds me that, as an e-mail firend once told me, we all constantly–in every class, during every term, every day–have to ask ourselves five questions: “How will people know _I_ have been here? How will I leave my mark? “What will be my legacy?” “Will I have made a difference?” “What tracks will I leave behind?” My answer today is in two words: Patrick, Trudy.
Make it a good day.