My birthday is always right before the start of school. In fact, my birthday is today. It is not hard to believe that I ended up in academia; my birthday being so closely aligned with the start of school, that I thought of the beginning of school as a celebration of my birthday. I have also been blessed –- blessed with teachers who, with a simple phrase or encouraging word, changed my feelings about subjects, school and the trajectory of my life.
As the overwhelm from a new school year sets in, I want to offer the short narratives of the very best things I have heard from my own teachers that shaped who I am as a teacher, advocate and person.
- You are exceptional. In my latest bout of schooling, my Masters’ degree, I was speaking to a very talented English pedagogy teacher, whose passion for English Language Arts was only surpassed by her unique talent for connecting with her students on a very personal level. I was defeated. I wasn’t accepted to a fellowship that I was really set on, and she, in her own kind and ardent way, told me that perhaps it was because I was too exceptional. Although she was being kind, I remember her case for my exceptionality being so personal, including how I stood up for those who couldn’t stand up for themselves and never backing down from injustice as a reason for my exceptionality. To me, her knowledge of me and the intimacy and objectivity she used to relate to me, propelled me to greater depths of commitment in my career and allowed me to have more perspective when dealt a blow.
- “To be honest, my only hesitation in writing you a recommendation for law school is losing you in the field of literary studies.” A dear professor of mine from undergraduate school wrote this when I asked her if she would recommend me for law school. I usually tense up when I hear “To be honest” but what followed is something I still come back to decades later. She wanted me as a part of her team. I have yet to meet anyone as deeply committed to feminist theory, social justice and literature as this particular teacher and the fact that she wanted me as part of this fearless tribe both honored and humbled me.
- You are relentless, you are unstoppable. I am not sure this was intended to be a compliment, but I took it as a compliment and a identifier for many years after a math teacher told me this. I had always had a difficult time with math and I spent each day of office hours of high school with my math teacher, coming no closer to A level work. After months of seeing my face every day, my math teacher almost bemoaned my relentless pursuit of understanding. From that moment I knew that nothing would stand in my way, not even trigonometry. Now I own a company that teaches and advocates for students with disabilities, and I know that I and my students are relentless and unstoppable.
What is the best thing you have ever heard from a teacher in life? What is your favorite thing you have ever said to a student?