Teachers changed my life. They didn’t just teach me various subjects and skills, but how to be the person I always wanted to become. So, in honor of the last day in Teacher Appreciation Week, I thought I’d write short letters to some of the teachers that made me who I am:
Dear Ms. Beery, my 5th-grade teacher
You were the first person who led me to fall in love with writing. You taught me a skill that is now my main outlet, passion, major, and job. From having us label each part of speech in 25-word sentences to leading an hour-long journaling session almost every day to showing us how to improve our short stories and poems with similes, idioms, hyperbole, and other literary devices, you eased me into the world of writing and helped me develop the intense love that I have for it to this day.
You always made us laugh and taught us a lot about life–we weren’t 5th graders to you, but young kids that were going to be young adults. You were never afraid to be honest or direct about anything, whether it be your disdain for Sarah Palin, how you were as a kid, how hard parenting was, why a book had made you emotional, the list continues. You were also really honest in your writing, which is something I admired.
I still remember on Valentine’s Day, after we all got back from theater rehearsals for a show that our grade had to put on, you decided to read us the letters you’d written to your daughters that day. As parents and visitors walked by, our whole class sat by the front door of the school, listening to the way you’d strung the love you had for your daughters into Valentines.
I remember thinking that it was one of the prettiest things I’d ever heard and that when I got older, I wanted to write about people the way you did. (And as an aspiring journalist, I hope I’m doing just that!)
Dear Ms. Tata, my 6th-8th grade art and photography teacher
You were always there for me–you really let me be myself and carved out the space I needed to further figure out who I wanted to be. You always stood up for us and our art and just understood us in a way that the administration didn’t. Your courage and determination were inspiring.
Your classroom, which would greet me with walls covered in layers of past students’ works and the smells of rubber cement and wood, was an extension of your light, enthusiasm, and positivity and was my haven in middle school. I remember I’d come in and sit at the paint-stained sink to do my makeup in front of the mirror every morning. You’d come sit next to me sometimes and talk to me about your week or tell stories of your life and old students. You’d talk about raising your kids, going on a date with someone who worked for the FBI (or the CIA?), taking your old students to Italy every year, and growing up in Ohio. They never failed to make me laugh.
You were also one of my first introductions to photography. You not only taught me the seven elements of photography (and the acronym for them!) and how to memorize f-stops but how to talk to people before I take a picture, how to capture the feeling of a place through my camera, and how to put my heart into the craft, even if I hate what I’m taking photos of. Thank you for all the color you brought into my life.
Dear Ms. Arrazolo, my 8th-grade English teacher
You edited my first, “real” short story and were the driving force behind my creative writing aspirations. Your praise, encouragement, reassurance, and constant care gave me all the confidence anyone could ever need to pursue their goals and be proud of who they are and the things they create. I carried your kind words with me for every story I wrote after that always will.
And even when you disagreed with something I was doing or saying, I still felt like you were rooting for me, which made my whole world as an insecure, angsty teenager. I also think back to middle school graduation, when you knew that I was not going to the high school of my choice, but rather, the one that my family wanted me to go to. You sent me an email saying that I was a great English student and that no matter where I go for school, I can always pursue my creative dreams as I’m going to be me regardless. It made me smile and immediately feel less alone before I even stepped foot inside the school.
Dear Ms. Webb, my 10th-grade AP Seminar teacher
You changed my life in more ways than any arrangement of words can explain. You helped me find strength within myself that I didn’t even know I had and guided me through all kinds of situations, feelings, and times. You really saved my life and are forever a part of me.
You were (and still are) the person I went to when I was bursting with happiness as well as who I turned to when I felt hopeless. I loved just pulling up my chair next to you in class and automatically feeling safe and heard. I would skip homeroom every day of my junior year just to spend the first 30 minutes of the day with you and have you read me parts of your journal, tell me stories, and just make my life brighter.
Thank you for being my family.
Dear Ms. Harris, my 11th-grade English teacher
Your joy was so infectious. I’d walk past you in the hallway, say “hi” and just start smiling. Your warmth radiated through every conversation you facilitated, every book you assigned, and every bit of advice you gave. You always encouraged me to stretch my creativity as far as it could go by relating Adventure Time to Slaughterhouse 5, having us create board games based around other Vonnegut novels, and watching everything from Arrival to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to Black Mirror to properly understand the class’s core concepts. Your classroom also felt like home, with the empty tea mugs in every corner, old Polaroid cameras scattered around, and shelves and shelves of books shoved against the back wall. You also completely reframed what American literature was. In fact, when I first got to college, I was assigned to write all kinds of difficult papers about Ancient Greek literature and even though I hated every second, I knew it would get easier (and it did!) because I had been through your class–a class run by the kindest, most understanding and creative teacher who truly taught me how to think outside of the box and to have faith in the intersections between critical thinking and creativity.
With love and gratitude,