In Praise of Teachers

In Praise of Teachers

From A 4th Course of Chicken Soup for the Soul

In Praise of Teachers

What sculpture is to a block of marble, education is to the soul.

Joseph Addison

In 1972, I returned to Miami Beach High School to speak to the drama class. Afterward I asked the drama teacher if any of my English teachers are still there. Irene Roberts, he tells me, is in class just down the hall.

I was no one special in Miss Roberts’ class—just another jock who did okay work. I don’t recall any one special bit of wisdom she passed on. Yet I cannot forget her respect for language, for ideas and for her students. I realize now, many years later, that she is the quintessential selfless teacher. I’d like to say something to her, I say, but I don’t want to pull her from a class. Nonsense, he says, she’ll be delighted to see you.

The drama teacher brings Miss Roberts into the hallway where stands this 32-year-old man she last saw at 18. “I’m Mark Med off,” I tell her. “You were my 12th-grade English teacher in 1958.” She cocks her head at me, as if this angle might conjure me in her memory. And then, though armed with a message I want to deliver in some perfect torrent of words, I can’t think up anything more memorable than this: “I want you to know,” I say, “you were important to me.”

And there in the hallway, this slight and lovely woman, now nearing retirement age, this teacher who doesn’t remember me, begins to weep; and she encircles me in her arms.

Remembering this moment, I begin to sense that everything I will ever know, everything I will ever pass to my students, to my children, is an inseparable part of an ongoing legacy of our shared wonder and eternal hope that we can, must, make ourselves better.

Irene Roberts holds me briefly in her arms and through her tears whispers against my cheek, “Thank you.” And then, with the briefest of looks into my forgotten face, she disappears back into her classroom, returns to what she has done thousands of days through all the years of my absence.

On reflection, maybe those were, after all, just the right words to say to Irene Roberts. Maybe they are the very words I would like to speak to all those teachers I carry through my life as part of me, the very words I would like spoken to me one day by some returning student: “I want you to know you were important to me.”

Mark Med off

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