It’s time for me to return to teaching again, but before I do, I want to thank you.
I didn’t know I owed you this debt until just now…because we don’t always ask questions when they ought to occur to us. When I was in school, I might have said it was me who mattered, me the student, to whom much is owed. It was too early to realize where the debt lay, and much too early to recognize what teacher would last, whose shove could propel me still.
You didn’t think I was the best student you taught—and you were right—but you never let me believe I was hopeless and wouldn’t allow me to believe being the best mattered much. You credited me with progress. You convinced me progress was the greatest prize and hardest to hang onto.
You weren’t easy on me but told me your high expectations were a tribute to my promise. Your challenges weren’t mean. They were calculated and strangely sweet, offered with just enough regret to tell me you needed to say what you did. You looked for moments to commend me. I’m sure at times your praise for my work seemed only partly true and felt like selling your soul off by ounces, but you sometimes did it hoping your actions might spur me to better work in the future that would make earlier praise accurate.
I wasn’t easy. Though you wanted to move me forward, some of the energy you put into me returned in opposition. You bore my skepticism with grace, knowing my role as student demanded it, and yours as teacher required listening patiently, without answering my personal disappointment with your own. I see now how silly some of my arguments were. Thank you for not telling me then how inane I could sometimes be. I never really doubted I could learn from you—or no learning would have happened—but I needed my dignity too. You gave it to me, sometimes at the sacrifice of your status.
You also let me be wrong. Either I’d discover my errors in time or…maybe there was nothing to discover in the first place. What hope did I have of learning without your making me see how important learning was to you? What material progress could we produce without enjoying learning together?
I’m tempted to give you credit for what I’ve become, but you wouldn’t want that. You taught me to own my growth, to see labor as the first step to skill. You wanted me to discover how much I could do. Belief in myself would be your greatest gift—and anything simply given me wasn’t truly mine.
Turns out, school was about me all along, but not in the way I thought. You sacrificed, and for that I am deeply, though belatedly, grateful. I carry you with me.