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Kind act of the year award

Impostor syndrome ... is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a "fraud". Wikipedia

I've often felt I should go back to the town in rural Iowa where I began my teaching career and put up a billboard that reads "If you had me as a teacher in Stuart-Menlo High School in the 1970s, I apologize. You deserved better. Mr. Johnson."

In 1976, I was clueless 24-year-old with what I know now was an only partially developed pre-frontal cortex. My job included teaching 6 classes (with 5 preps) of high school English, speech, journalism, and drama. My extra curricular duties included directing plays, sponsoring the yearbook and weekly newspaper, and coaching speech contestants. Oh, I worked on the weekends at a gas station to supplement my mighty $8900 a year salary. And I had a family.

In the classroom 1978

Despite having received a teaching degree from a good college and doing student teaching, I really don't think I knew what in the hell I was doing. I learned grammar from Warriner's grammar book the night before I tried to teach it. I was bored by most of the stories in the literature text so we acted a lot of them out. I probably lost it with some kid 3 times a day and had an adversarial relationship with my principal who liked to listen into classes using the PA system without anyone's knowledge. My room had been an elementary classroom once upon a time so the chalkboard started at about my knees and went no higher than my chest. Smartboards, computers, and even VCRs were in the distant future. At least the teachers' smoking lounge was close by.

I did love directing the plays and coaching the other activities, but still I have been living for 40 years with the guilt of not being a good classroom teacher to those great kids.

But I had a visitor yesterday at one of the schools where I was helping distribute Chromebooks to middle school students. This nicely dressed man wearing the school's visitor badge saddled up to me and asked "Do you remember our Dirty Works in High Places?" Seeing my total confusion he introduced himself. "I'm Tim. I was one of your students at Stuart Menlo in the 70s. You directed the play Dirty Works in High Places. Remember?" If I had false teeth, they would have dropped on the floor. I indeed remembered Tim well since he was a star in our class plays and speech contests. I just didn't recognize him without the giant Afro hairstyle he sported back then. 

We had a nice conversation reminiscing about the good times and with him sharing videos he had made for a class reunion in which other students said they enjoyed being in the plays and what they learned in my classes. He followed up with an email that reads in part:

Not to keep repeating myself (this will be the last time, I think), please know that you were so loved as a teacher by me and by a great many of my classmates. I absolutely loved your class, because it involved being able to use my creativity in writing and in drama. You played a huge part in fostering that creativity in me, and for that I truly thank you! I truly enjoyed English class as well as Drama class, and to this day I am a grammar hound. (I only hope this e-mail doesn't disprove that in some way.) Also, you weren't one of those cranky teachers. It appeared that you loved what you did, and we loved being in your class because of it. Your great personality and generally-upbeat attitude were key factors. If there was something about those first two years of your career we should have picked up on, trust me...we didn't. This morning I was particularly touched by how you were touched after receiving this information when we talked. Thank you again for taking the time to sit and talk with me today!!

Tim, I was truly touched. You helped this old man dissipate 40 years of worry about his first years of teaching. 

Thank you for your kindness.

Blue Skunk readers, find a teacher who you liked and say "thanks." I guarantee you will make his/her day. Or year.

Drama Club, 1977-78 School Year

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Reader Comments (2)

Hi Doug. Your advice about reaching out to a former teacher is so true! Over the summer, I used the power of Facebook to find my 2nd grade teacher. She was one of the adults in my life that shared the love of reading and put me on the path to be a teacher-librarian. She was so thankful that I found her. She said she often wondered if she had made a difference in any of her students lives. Because I made the connection, more of her former students reached out to her too.

September 20, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterKelly

Hi Kelly,

Thanks so much for your comment. I am sure your communication with your teacher meant the world to her. And thank you for encouraging others. This seems to be a cruel world for many, but there are many wonderful people in it.


September 25, 2018 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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