Gratitude and musings: impactful teachers

I saw a meme that depicted a student climbing a ladder where the rungs were the arms of teachers and coaches. I saw a video of a recently-retired band teacher honored with a surprise concert and a massive instrument donation to his school. I reread a note from a former student who I had taught in 5th and 6th grade, written well after she’d entered adulthood, saying I was the best teacher she’d ever had.

I have been fortunate enough to have many great teachers in my life so far. Some of them, I remember only scattered details about content but remember how I felt. Some of them, I remember content. (Some of them weren’t explicitly in teacher roles.) But I’ve never had a teacher who left a positive impression on me who didn’t recognize my humanity.

One of the things I loved most about teaching when I started (and hate most about the limitation in my current assignment) was getting to know kids. They’re interesting and insightful and funny. Typically more willing to share what’s inside of them than adults are. In most teaching jobs that I have had, I’ve learned at least as much as I’ve taught, if not more.

I took time a few years ago to write thank you notes or letters to former teachers, if I knew how to get it to them. There was one who I feel deep gratitude and affection for, who I feel like I can’t say thank you enough times (though after a while, it would just be weird, so I did once or maybe twice and that’s all).

Jon Gluckman was my 7th grade English teacher. I had his class last period of the day.

As a 7th grader, I was introverted, shy, anxious, completely unable to make conversation with people unless I knew them well. (To my frustration, some of those remain true. Another post for another day.)

As a 7th grader, I hated being at home. I’ve mentioned bits and pieces around here, so for now we can just say: home was not an emotionally safe place to be.

As a 7th grader, I was in a new school. Our district at the time had K-6 elementary schools and one junior-senior high school.

As a 7th grader, I loved reading and writing. They had always been two of my favorite things to do, and I was endlessly disappointed in elementary school that I would test into gifted (pullout) math but not language.

I don’t remember when it started or how it started, but I would always pack up my books slowly and be the last one out of room 122.

One day, he asked me, “What’s the latest gossip?” That’s a question nearly anyone can answer, and so we talked. I have no idea what the latest gossip was at that point.

I don’t remember how often this happened, but we would talk for an hour or more after school on a regular basis. I would get in trouble at home for being late, so I used to make up clubs that I was in so I could stay for “meetings,” when really, I was hanging out and talking to Mr. Gluckman.

It filled a giant emotional hole in me. An adult who was interested in talking to me. On a regular basis.

For anyone whose mind went there, there was never anything remotely inappropriate about it.

I remember very little of we talked about. But I remember being safe.

When I moved on to 8th grade, I would sometimes stop by his room after school and say hello. And I started a “publication” called The Gossip that I gave him every so often. (I would love to see those now. I don’t have electronic or paper copies. I’m sure they were entertaining in the English Department office.)

Once I became a teacher, I thought back on those days and how much time he gave me. It still amazes me.

I took a creative writing class with him over the summer between 8th and 9th grades. I had a Facebook trip down memory lane about that class a few years ago. So many of us remember so many random details about it … so long ago. I can still recite Buffalo Bill’s by e.e. cummings. Thirty years later.

I took a creative writing independent study with him in 10th grade.

I’ve seen him a handful of times since. We’re going back East this summer. Maybe I’ll see if he’s around.

I wanted to use a picture of he and I for this post, but I don’t have any. Memories it is.

What teacher had a huge impact on you? Have you let them know?





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