Liz Flaherty photo

I just wanted to thank you…

My thanks to a wonderful website for helping me out today. Because, you know what? Sometimes it’s really hard to come up with something to say. Writers, during practice-writing times and writing sprints and meetings with other writers who have the same…er…strange mind-workings as they have, often use prompts.

So, today, when my strange mind is as blank as it can be, I’ve chosen a prompt from the 51 offered on the website above. We’ll see how it comes out.

“Write a thank you letter to your favorite teacher.”

This is a good one for me because I have a real soft spot for teachers. I think they’re overworked, underpaid, and underappreciated. My favorite ones are the one I gave birth to and the one she married, but I’m not going to write them a letter. Kari would think I was dying and Jim would laugh at me.

But I do have a list of thank yous.

I was scared to death of my first-grade teacher. If I think about her very long, I can get scared again even now. But she handed out the first Dick-and-Jane reader—and all the ones that followed it. I remember, so many years later, the first word on the first page: Look. Reading was the first thing I was ever good at, the first thing outside of family, my blue nylon dress, and a handful of dolls that I ever loved. I love it still. So I’m thankful to her.

Somewhere along the line, we were taught to write themes. Or essays. In my memory, it seems as if most people hated them, or at least dreaded them. I’m sure I sighed along with others, said I had no idea what I was going to write, and that I’d probably get a big red F anyway. But writing was the second thing I was good at. Or maybe I wasn’t all that good at it, but I loved it. So I’m grateful to whomever assigned those themes and taught us the mechanics of beginning, middle, and end.

When I was a freshman, some evil force propelled me to take Latin. If you’d asked me at the end of that endless year what all I’d learned, I would have rolled my eyes and said, “Amo, amas, amat, amamus, amatis, amant,” conjugating the word for love. However, I’m still using what I learned in that single year of Latin. I like knowing where words come from, and I’m pretty sure a lot of mine came from Miss Fisher’s room in the senior high hall.

We read Shakespeare in high school. Plays and sonnets. I felt like such a failure, because beyond watching Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey in the movie of Romeo and Juliet, I pretty much disliked everything of his I read. But if I hadn’t read Shakespeare’s sonnets, maybe I wouldn’t have realized how much I liked Robert Frost’s poetry. If I hadn’t read Shakespeare’s plays, I wouldn’t have appreciated Jean Kerr and Neil Simon. That same year, we had to “cast” Silas Marner by cutting pictures out of magazines. I’m still casting books the same way. So, thanks, Mrs. Slauter.

I took two years of typing and a year of bookkeeping. My bookkeeping skills were (and are) suspect, but I can keep a ledger well enough to get from month to month. I was among the slowest and least accurate typists, but I’ve written 20 books and several hundred essays using the touch system. Thanks a lot, Miss Boswell and Mrs. Johnson. You could have told a lot of stories beginning with, “If she could learn this, anyone can.”

Mr. Heltzel taught about different kinds of writing. Mr. Andrews graded hard so that you knew what you did wrong. Mr. Huffman tried to teach me geometry and ended up passing me on effort alone because I didn’t get any of it. Mr. Lewis gave me a C in U. S. History because no matter how much I loved history, I never got good at learning it. Mr. Wildermuth taught us algebra and humanity and standing up for what we believed.

The Fasts and the Pipers went to Washington, D. C. the week President Kennedy died. When they came back, they talked to the students, and we all felt like we’d been there, too.

There were bad times and places, too. Teachers who didn’t like me and couldn’t hide the fact. Even they taught me that not everyone’s going to like you and it’s something you need to live with; you don’t like everybody, either. One or two who had me in tears. Crying in class taught me that just like in baseball, there shouldn’t be crying in classrooms or workplaces. It needs to be done in private, because if the person who makes you cry sees you, they’ve won. Am I grateful to have learned that? No. But it’s still a valuable lesson.

But there were so many more good than bad. I am reminded a little of the basketball seasons when I was in high school. Much of the time, our team lost more than they won, but it’s the games themselves we remember more than the wins or losses. The playing. The players. The support. Teamwork.

School was that way. Teachers were, too. They were in the business of making productive grownups out of kids who may or may not have cared. Sometimes it didn’t work, but they still played the game.

A favorite one, you say? No, there’s no way I could pick one. So this is my letter to them all, and my thanks.

Have a good week. Be nice to somebody. Tell them Thank you.


Liz maintains a blog that you can visit by clicking this link:

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