Thursday, June 9, 2011


I received a thank you card from a graduating senior today. She had been in my writing class last year, and a literature class with me fall trimester this year. The last time I've had her in class was in November, over six months ago. She has had some real challenges in her life. At one point last fall, it looked like her family might not have a home. She almost stopped coming to school then. She has had to deal with major health issues. She's a bright girl and a good student, so I don't think very many people knew about her challenges because she always looked like she had it together, but English teachers know lots of things because we read the kids' writing. This is what she wrote inside my card today.

"Mrs. Haynie,

"You have been there for me through everything; the good times and the bad. Even when I was feeling so low and thought life couldn't possibly get much worse, you picked me up and put hope in my heart. I went through some rough times and got to a point to where I didn't even think going to school was worth my time, but you were always there to make it worth my while. You have helped me through many sticky situations, whether it be with my health or family issues or even just day to day drama. You are always there. You have always been the person to tell me things will get better and encouraged me to be my best, and for that I am so thankful. You have been the best English teacher and Creative Nonfiction Writing teacher I have ever had. You are an amazing writer. You love your job, you love to write, and you love your students. I have never met anyone so good at what they do. Never change and never stop teaching.

"You are truly an inspiration. I love hearing your stories of the outdoors and of hiking trips you have gone on. You have really encouraged me to get out and be adventurous. I hope that someday I am the strong and independent woman you are.

"I never truly knew how much potential my writing had until I took your Creative Nonfiction class. Whether I reach my goal of becoming a nurse or not, I will never stop writing. I will continue to better myself as a writer and someday put the story of my life into a book. I promise you, in that book I will write about how much you helped me and made me who I am. You are an amazing person! I may be graduating, but I will see you again. Thank you for everything you have given me. Thank you so much not only for being an amazing teacher, but also for being an amazing friend. Lots of love and God bless."

Reading her card moved me to tears. I was very touched that she took the time to write such a thoughtful thank you letter, and to go to three different classrooms trying to track me down so she could deliver it in person. I'm not entirely certain I should have posted its contents here. It's a personal, private message. There are so many personal things that are inappropriately shared online these days. But I decided to share this student's thoughts because they can teach us all something about the importance of showing up and encouraging others.

In spite of what this young adult woman thinks, I'm not the greatest teacher there ever was. I'm not the best writer, or the most adventurous outdoorswoman. I'm not a lot of things. I'm just me. It's true that I do (usually) enjoy my job, but really, the things I do that made the biggest impression on this student are:

1: Show up, and
2: Encourage others.

I love the word COURAGE. The root of the word is the same as the root for "heart" in Latin (cordis). The apple core is at the heart of the apple, and our core beliefs are the ones we hold tightest to our hearts. In Spanish, corazon, heart, is very close to coraje, courage.

And when we encourage someone, we are putting courage into them. Into their hearts. Don't you love to encourage someone else, and watch their shoulders get a little straighter, their eyes begin to sparkle? Don't you love it when someone else encourages you and lets you know that they have confidence in your capabilities and capacity to do what is right and strong and good in the world? It's godly work, being a cheerleader for those around us.

By the same token, to discourage someone else, to take their courage away from them, is a bad, bad thing to do. Discouraged people are easy targets for temptation, illness, accidents, bad karma. Discouraged people are more likely to bring others down with them in a vicious cycle of trouble and unhappiness.

For me, today's thank you card captured what I see every day as I work with teens. They are such holy brave unsure idealistic awkward genuine earnest children. They are everything I was just a few years ago, everything I still hope to become. They know so little, and they know so much. Sunday afternoon I'll march with them in their graduation gowns, where, at the end of the speeches and ceremonies, they'll throw their caps to the sky with jubilation and joy, and I won't be able to help grinning from ear to ear at the miracle of their beautiful selves, launched to try their way into the world.

Courage, my friends, courage. It's a beautiful word. Let's share it around.

Speaking of teaching and courage, do not miss this video on Facebook

It's my son-in-law, Eric, in his chemistry lab, setting things on fire in some interesting and unique ways. Eric is an admirable high school science teacher. He earned a doctorate in chemistry from UC Berkeley, and he could have worked just about anywhere for lots of money, but he chose to teach at a high school--a small one in a little farming town--because he loves teaching and teenagers.

PLEASE go visit his video, and "like" it. He's trying to earn $2500 for the science program at his small rural high school. They're facing lots of budget cuts and they could really use the money. He's in second place in a contest, and he only needs a few more votes to win! Please please please encourage Eric and put him over the top. 

Click HERE and follow the directions to "like" the video (don't just "like" the comment).
Haha - believe WILL like his video!



Sarah said...

Great. Now I'm crying. :) What a wonderful post and thank you card. Thank you for sharing.

Polly @ Pieces by Polly said...

Wow! What a great letter from your student. I'm sure you've been an awesome teacher for her.

And thanks for mentioning Eric's video...for now we're in first place.

Bridget said...

That brought tears to my eyes, too. I haven't had the difficulties of this girl, but recently I spent a while searching for contact information for my sophomore/junior year English teacher so I could write her a note in that same spirit. I never found the info but I hope I do someday.

I tried to click on the video, by the way, but Facebook said it wasn't available...?

Dorothy said...

That girl is going to make it! Thank you for sharing (I do think you have preserved her annonymity, because it helps us to realize that simply CARING about another person is often enough to help them through hard times in life.

Annemarie said...

What a lovely letter. I have a book that I have entitled "Reasons for Teaching"--I always put notes like that into it. When I have one of those days when I'm totally glum or discouraged about my job, I pull it out just to remind myself that each minute that I'm in the presence of others, I have the opportunity to encourage them and be present for them. You are a fantastic person, Kathy . . . and a wonderful teacher. I'm not surprised that you'd receive a letter like this one (you've probably received several in your years of teaching). I'm sure there will be others in the years to come. Bless you, friend.