A Tribute to My Favorite Teacher: The One Who Opened the Door

I had one teacher who I was pretty sure hated me for breathing. I wasn’t one of her pets, one of those good students who got physics the minute the words rolled off her tongue. If you weren’t one of the great students in her class, forget it. Never mind that you made As or Bs most everywhere else. I looked at my final exam, rolled my eyes, scrawled some numbers on it, and walked out. It was my last “screw you” to her. I had already been accepted to college, and I wouldn’t be getting any science degree. She taught me that not every teacher’s agenda includes every student.

Of course, I’m ashamed to say there were teachers on the receiving end of my own crooked attitude. Some I made fun of within earshot. How could my chemistry teacher not see she was the spitting image of Peter Pan in that outfit? It absolutely demanded a high-pitched chorus of “You Can Fly” every time she stood before the room in those tan pants and that green collared shirt. Had I been braver, maybe I would have cut a felt hat for her and left it on her desk. Rude as I was, I had my limits. The truth was, science didn’t fascinate me. Neither did her lectures.

Looking back, I’ve felt some teachers did a disservice to me by not pushing me, by letting me slide by on what I knew I could get by with. They didn’t challenge me. They gave me the A. They never encouraged me to read really great books. They never got to know me. They never asked to see something I wrote or gave me pointers. Some teachers were there to go through the motions and collect their paychecks. And I was there to turn in half-assed work and collect my As and Bs. I always did OK and I was always lost in a crowd of really great kids and troublemakers. If you asked any of my teachers now, I bet they wouldn’t even know me.

But one teacher gave me the push I needed. One teacher told me I was good at something. She was hard and strict and she gave me—a quiet, mousy girl when it came down to it—a chance. She taught journalism and AP English. She helped me get out there and get stories, actually talk to people—upperclassmen and adults. She helped me get in front of a camera for our student news show when I wanted to crawl under a table and hide. She talked about the world outside of our high school and introduced me to Edgar Allan Poe. She gave me a camera and made me get out in the community and see it from behind the lens. I never felt like her pet. But she let me know that I had a little bit of talent and that I would have to believe in myself. And it was all that I needed.

When I graduated, I was so moved by the two years I’d had in her classes that I wrote her a letter. It took all the courage I had to give it to her in person. I’m sure it was cheesy and dramatic, covered in the emotion of leaving home and starting anew. But I do remember that I told her she was the best teacher I had ever had. Without a doubt she was.

She was the teacher who ignited my curiosity and unveiled a layer of confidence I never knew I had. And though that kind of learning will never be complete, she is the one who opened the door.

Here’s to Ms. Purdy, in honor of Teacher Appreciation Week.


We all know I hated math too.



Filed under Inspiration

32 responses to “A Tribute to My Favorite Teacher: The One Who Opened the Door

  1. I love your post! There’s always a teacher who’s willing to push you to go past your {known} limits, stand by you while doing that… If you fall, they are there to cheer you up to try again – but never help you by doing your job instead. These are the best teachers and I had 2 of them.

  2. K. Eley

    Great teachers are so far and few between. It is so true that the best teachers are the ones that challenge you and encourage you do to more. Great post!

    • There are some good teachers out there but the ones we truly connect with, no, that doesn’t happen often. I’m curious to see this with my own kids, who inspires them along the way.

  3. It’s amazing how just a little time and a few words from a teacher or mentor can impact a student. I wish more would take the time to do this. We may think our words mean nothing to a young person in our charge, but we underestimate how much we’re actually heard by them. I’m not talking about parent to child, because how much they take away from us certainly varies, but a few words of encouragement from a source other than a parent can do wonders for kids.

    I think it’s wonderful you wrote the teacher to tell her of her impact. I suspect that meant a lot to her.

    • You’re right. I think it’s important to remember to encourage kids who aren’t our own. When someone other than your parent says something to you, you listen.

      I always felt kind of silly for writing her that note. But I wanted to say it. Some things just need to be said.

  4. I can’t remember any teacher encouraging me in anything. I was unfortunate to not be as good at languages, science or sport as my elder sister and was always in her shadow, yet my natural gift for music was of no interest until I fought to take my O level.
    You were indeed very lucky, and I am certain that your letter made her feel on top of the world.

    • I remember feeling like some teachers encouraged other students but not me, until I had her. Some teachers were just bad; I don’t think they even liked teaching. I had some who fell asleep in class! But she was great and I always loved her class.

  5. I appreciate the sentiment behind the post, Karen, and I hope Ms. Purdy gets a chance to read it. What made me smile even more was the fact that I received a handwritten letter from a freshman just a couple of days ago, thanking me for being her teacher and for pushing her to write. I’ll keep that letter always.

    • It’s a tough job, and I know teachers can’t reach every student in that way, inspire them the way they need to be, but all it takes is one teacher…or mentor…or adult to let a kid know her potential. Glad you got that letter.

  6. backwardparentingbybrita

    I was a teacher for 7 years in public school. It was a trying and rewarding time. Some of my best and most lasting student relationships were with those kids whom most other teachers had already written off. We teachers can fall into a rut with the best of them. We get bogged down with the enormity of the job and the general lack of respect from anyone other than another teacher. We commiserate. A lot. We have to be reminded that what we do matters. And who we reach matters. And how we treat our students lasts well beyond that school year. Thanks for a great reminder! I just started blogging, myself. I’m lost in a sea of unknown, but do consider reading my future posts! http://www.backwardparentingbybrita.com

    • It does matter and it does last beyond a school year. My kids talk often about their teachers from years ago and what they’ve said to them. I can tell how those small daily interactions really make a difference. Thanks for stopping by!

  7. Sasha

    I pray my children will have many, many teachers like this!

  8. How I hope, and pray, and worry at the end of every school year, thinking of the kids who I haven’t been able to challenge (because they weren’t open to it, because my time and energy were so drained by the kids in crisis, because I didn’t have the wisdom to see that they need my push). How I hope and pray and worry every June, hoping that just one child will maybe feel about me the way you do about your teacher……

  9. I’m glad you found that specail teacher that moved you and helped you to become what you are today. I hope someday students will look back fondly at the time spent in my class. Even bettter would be to get a letter from them telling me about it. Well, it might be a Facebook message these days and that would be just fine with me.

    • I guess I didn’t realize how special a letter was for a teacher. I am a much better communicator that way anyway, and at that time–watching my friends move on to other colleges and I was going somewhere all by myself–I actually wrote several letters to tell people how much they meant to me through the years. She was the only teacher though.

      I’m sure you have inspired some students in many ways. And not even just students. We never know how much of an impact we have on others throughout our lives.

      • That’s true – we never really know the impact we have. That’s why sending the letter was so awsome. Those people now know.
        P.S. I love the movie It’s a Wonderful Life!

  10. Lisa

    I knew who it would be before I even read the article. And I too have your loathing for that certain physics teacher. In college I had to take two physics courses and I learned how much easier it is with a teacher that can teach.

    • Yes, she was something else. Some people really are not cut out to teach. I despised math but I had two math teachers who were actually pretty good. It was the math I didn’t like, not them.

  11. Maybe she’s out there somewhere reading this post right now 🙂

  12. How lovely! I bet that letter made Ms. Purdy’s whole year worthwhile.

    • It was probably much better for her than the poor teacher whose yard I rolled and whose car I helped put a “Student Driver” sign on, “borrowed” from the school parking lot. 😉 Math teacher.

  13. I hope one of your readers knows Ms. Purdy and sent her the link to your post. Heartfelt and very touching indeed. We all had teachers that molded us, the bad ones, the good ones. You know what? Whenever I run into a teacher somewhere (at the airport baggage terminal, go figure!!), he/she remembers everything about me (as I was then) like no time had passed. I continue to be impressed by how teachers genuinely care about the students in a classroom, whether I like them or not.

    They deserve so much more than a week of appreciation.

  14. Sometimes all it takes is a special one to shape us up! I wish every teacher could be like that.

  15. I hated school while I was there, but looking back I wish I would have spent more time thinking about my future as the time spent now looking into my past. I hated science and history, but now I love history and am always finding ways to bring a little of the past into my world. I had a few teachers that stood out, one or two that guided me, and one or two that I especially had a disliking for. Whatever my feeling were for those teachers, good or bad, they still helped to mold me, and who I am now. So, I am grateful for every one!
    What a beautiful tribute you gave to your teacher, and very heartwarming story!

  16. I came across this post today and love it. With my own kids I am seeing (and hearing) that “just fine” is totally acceptable. I don’t want my kids to be doing just fine, I want them to be engaged and excelling. I want them to find their potential and crave a challenge. It’s true that few teachers do this now and it is an injustice to our education system. Here’s to the teachers who make a connection and inspire their students, those teachers are true heros in my book!

  17. skrzypela1

    Tak ciezko spotkac teraz nauczycieli z powolania ! Dobrze ze o tym piszesz moze da to przyklad innym 🙂 pozdrawiam:)

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