Last month — spurred by the incredible praise heaped upon Rich Rollins after he died — I suggested that “06880” readers might want to thank a favorite teacher or two before they die.
The post drew some thoughtful, thankful comments. Over 30 people named men and women who had pushed, pulled, cajoled, motivated or otherwise inspired them.
One man actually tracked a teacher down.
“I’m sure you don’t remember me,” he wrote to James McKelvey.
I was an Alfred E. Newman lookalike in the 1961-62 9th grade class of Bedford Junior High School. I had you in the middle annex building, first class to the right. I remember well.
You were the first teacher to treat me, a complete goofball, with some respect and actual belief that I had some writing ability. As a result of your recommendation, I was in Honors English classes at Staples and enjoyed the teaching skills of Higgins-Decker-Chalk.
I still remember that I wrote a paper for you titled “Tricks of the Trade,” regarding techniques a writer uses to convey words. It might have been my first “A” ever. I was overjoyed and my parents, always impressed with my older brother’s achievements, took note of my skills.
For this, I will always be indebted to you. You opened the door for me, as I am sure you have for countless others.
The former pupil described all that had happened since then: His eventual law degree, followed by an MFA in creative writing — and a dozen books.
Soon, Mr. McKelvey responded. His handwriting was a tiny bit shaky — and the penmanship came from a forgotten era — but his sentiments were strong and clear.
“Thanks for the generous compliment you paid me on the website,” he wrote, “as well as for the kind remarks expressed in the letter you mailed me last week.”
With help from your class yearbook, I was readily able to identify you from your picture. I have enclosed a copy of that page in case your own yearbook has strayed.
As you might image, it is most unusual for a now retired teacher to hear from a former student after nearly a half century. Even more satisfying and comforting to the retiree is the student’s perception that the teacher had played a major role in inspiring the student to seek and achieve significant success.
With all good wishes for your continued good fortune, I am,
Think of it: A former student, now around retirement age himself, finding and thanking someone he spent just an hour a day with, for only 10 months, 50 years ago.
The teacher, the student now realizes, was not much older than he back then. (In fact, he still is not.)
But the wisdom of those few years — and the fact that he taught, and taught well, and cared about his students — has shaped the younger man’s life forever.
For half a century, the teacher never knew that.
Now he does.
The former student taught his “old” teacher something about remembering, and gratitude, and caring.
And now both of them have passed that lesson on to all of us.