An Unexpected Christmas Present

Though I retired from education as the academic dean of a large urban middle school, I never enjoyed that job half as much as being a classroom teacher. As the dean, I worked mostly with teachers, monitoring what and how they taught, aligning curriculum to state standards, designing teacher inservices to improve instruction, etc. All very dry. The two things I enjoyed the most as dean was the pay and that I could go to the bathroom whenever I wanted, unlike being in the classroom. I never got over missing the kids.

I saw many teachers over the years who only wanted to teach smart, well-behaved, nearly perfect children. The things these teachers said in the teachers’ lounge about some of their students made me angry. Since my principal knew the soft spot I kept in my heart for the troubled kids, she gave me more than my share of these children. I worried about each and every one of them, but some of them touched me more deeply than others.

Before I became a general ed teacher, I was a special ed teacher. I taught the students who had serious emotional problems. That was in the days when these students were not mainstreamed but stayed in one classroom with one teacher all day long. They weren’t even required to take the state tests. Their classroom was nearly always in a portable, far from the rest of the “regular” students. Maybe the principal did not want the rest of the school to hear the screams. I resent that. I hardly ever screamed.

It was at this time that I met C. He had the sweetest, most angelic face, and though he was nearly fourteen at the time, he looked much younger. He was a young man who wanted to be good, who wanted to follow the rules, but gosh, darn it, someone else was always dragging him into trouble. Don’t you hate it when that happens? It was never his fault. He was a follower, and he always followed the wrong people. Unfortunately, because my troubled students were in a self-contained classroom, the only role models they had were other troubled students. C. didn’t have a chance. On the day he left middle school, I wrote him a letter. I don’t remember exactly what I said in it, but I think I told him that he had the power to turn his life around and make better choices. I’m sure I told him how much I believed in him.

I never heard from C. again until years later when I received a letter from him. He mentioned how much my letter had meant to him over the years, and he really wanted to change. Now he needed my help because he had again followed the wrong person and gotten himself in very serious trouble. He asked me if I would write to the court and ask for leniency. Because of the nature of C’s crime, I doubted there was anything I could say that would make any difference, but I tried anyway. It did no good, and C. suffered the consequences of his poor choices.

That was many years ago. In the beginning, I tried to find out where he was so I could send him encouragement, but I was unsuccessful in locating him. I never stopped worrying about him, though. And then…

This week that young man made this old woman cry. He looked for me until he found my blog and sent me a message by leaving a comment. It simply said, “Mrs. Okaty, please email me!” When I saw his name, my heart skipped a beat. I lost no time in responding, and he wrote back immediately to tell me about his life. He got married this week and has a little boy on the way, and he owns his own heating and air conditioning company. I checked his website out and his business is doing wonderfully. It even has an excellent rating with the Better Business Bureau!

This is what he wrote to me: “Your words have stuck with me through some rough times and I just hope you know what a wonderful impact you had on my life. I’ll never forget what you wrote to me and thank you so much for everything.” What an incredible and unexpected Christmas present! Thank you, C!

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About Coming East

I am a writer, wife, mother, and grandmother who thinks you're never too old until you're dead. My inspiration is Grandma Moses who became a successful artist in her late 70's. If I don't do something pretty soon, though, I'll have to find someone older for inspiration.
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188 Responses to An Unexpected Christmas Present

  1. rebeccabartley says:

    Thank you for sharing this. This is truly a beautiful and heartwarming story. We all need someone to believe in and I’m glad to hear both you and C are doing so great. Thanks for the wonderful story!

    Everyone feel free to check out my blog! All follows, likes, comments, and views are all appreciated! :)

  2. this is such a lovely story and so well told. You are a natural writer and so very engaging :)

  3. Pingback: Blog of 2012 « The World Is a Book…

  4. What a wonderful story! I’m glad C. ended up okay.

  5. Sony Fugaban says:

    This such an inspiring post and it just asseverated my belief that words are, beyond question, powerful. We will never know what in can do to someone…

    I am happy to know that this has a very, very beautiful ending. I wish you and Mr. C more beautiful stories to share.

    Congratulations!

  6. We all just need someone to believe in us. Thank you for this beautiful story and the positive contribution to our society you made by continuing to support a young man who many had probably gave up on.

  7. Thank you for sharing this story, Mrs. Okaty, and for sharing yourself with your students. The boundless contributions of educators too often go unnoticed and unappreciated, even by the students whose lives have been so enriched. I’m so glad that things have turned out well for C, and that he has let you know the instrumental part you played in his success. I was blessed to have such a teacher as well (hillbillyzen.com/2012/11/28/in-memory-of-miss-joan-davis/), who also went above and beyond, and in doing so changed the course of her students’ lives. God bless.

    • Coming East says:

      I just read your post about Miss Joan Davis, Hillbilly. What a beautiful tribute to this wonderful teacher! Thank you for mentioning this post in your comment on my blog today.

  8. What a wonderful story. I’ve had a few teachers over the years that remain in my heart, that taught me some very good lessons in life.
    Merry Christmas.

  9. eckyba says:

    This is a beautiful story. I’m so glad I read it! I’ve been looking into becoming a teacher, and this is just one of many reasons to add to my collection of why I should do it! To have an outcome like this is all anyone in life could ask for, and to be a part of that by simply being ones teacher and encouraging them is just incredible!

    • Coming East says:

      Thanks, Becky. This was an unusual outcome, but as a teacher you will experience many daily instances of when you make a student’s day just by showing them you care more about them than what is in your grade book.

  10. idogiveanf says:

    this entry strengthened my belief on how a teacher’s influence can affect eternity… very inspiring… and a reminder that I myself should go beyond the chalk and board to attend to my students’ needs. ==)

    • Coming East says:

      Thanks, Idogive. Teaching has always been about so much more than the subject matter. As I constantly reminded my teachers when I was dean, we teach children, not a subject.

  11. swatik6 says:

    Amazing piece of nostalgia. Hearing from someone after a very long time actually brings good warmth in the relationship. Well, everyone needs a mentor in life as the words/beliefs of our mentors rest in our heart, mind and soul forever and at times we do miss the motivation received from them. Indeed an unexpected Christmas present. Happy Christmas in advance :)

  12. Talk about making a difference in the world! The power of words! What a great illustration! You spoke life and words of encouragement into that student’s life…..and C clung onto those words. Thank you for posting this! I’m a follower!

  13. indytony says:

    Thanks for sharing such a positive reflection on your role as an educator. It made me think of some of my better teachers and what an impact they had on me. Thanks for your service.

  14. sftboat says:

    There is so much to understand and learn from teaching. All your time and effort is worthwhile.

  15. andydbrown says:

    What a great post and story of a young man’s life turned around! Congrats on being freshly pressed! I’m an English teacher in Oman at the university level and it’s always nice to see a teacher’s post make it to the freshly pressed page. Very inspiring. Thanks for the reminder to never lose sight of the potential within each student. Very much like how God never gives up on each one of us. Blessings!

  16. I am the director of marketing for a company that teaches children the fundamentals of movement through awareness. I thought your writing on the subject of education was thought provoking in that many “bad kids” get left behind by frustrated teachers. At http://www.playgroundentertainmentgroup.com we attempt to tackle the problem head on by teaching children good values and skills through song and dance.

    • Coming East says:

      Thanks, playgrounder. I took a look at your site. Teaching certainly has changed since I was a student, and it behooves teachers and school district to look for different ways to challenge kids. Sports are certainly one of those ways.

  17. alexisdeluca says:

    Okay, that got me….I’ve got tears in my eyes, too. It’s funny….I just posted a comment about how the responsibility of children falls on all of us. How would the world revolve today if you hadn’t written that letter? A little slower and little sadder for C. and his family…and you, too. I admire your courage for looking at C. as your responsibility and caring enough to diagnose, treat, counsel, and befriend him (I think that’s what I said in my comment–we too often let troubled kids slip through our fingers)….and thank you for being a role model that went a step further by loving someone else’s child who is also everyone’s child–a child of the world.

    • Coming East says:

      Thank you for your very thoughtful comment, Alexis. I don’t know if you could say I diagnosed, treated, and counseled C, but I did believe in him. Sometimes that’s enough.

  18. That is the best gift ever. As a teacher, I can only hope to have a similar impact during my career.

  19. Our words and deeds have greater impact on those we cross paths with than we realize. Great teachers encourage great results. How wonderful that one of your students took the time to acknowledge the important role you played in his life. Makes it all worthwhile.

  20. jazzytower says:

    That was indeed a lovely Christmas present. I am happy, and am sure so is he, that he was able to reach you to let you know of your positive impact on his life. My most influential teacher stays in my thoughts, often. It was not one particular thing that she did. It was just her demeanor and how she treated us as students. Never talking down to us or being mean, she just made us THINK. Thank you Mrs Beckford!! And thank you for this post.

  21. hi! glad you got freshly pressed! i found this wonderful poem, A Piece of Clay, that aptly put into words your journey with C “,) hope you could find time to check it on my blog. God bless!

  22. What a beautiful story. It must have been wonderful for you to hear how he turned his life around.

  23. lsurrett2 says:

    What a wonderful post! It’s especially encouraging to those like me who are on the verge of leaving the profession. It’s stories like this that make me consider changing my mind.

    • Coming East says:

      LOL, Isurrett! Just because I had this great experience doesn’t mean I am enameled of the teaching profession. It certainly isn’t what it used to be. Accountability has taken all the fun out of teaching! Accountability is a good thing, but it’s also a curse. I don’t think I’d become a teacher with the way things are now. That being said, we still need great teachers who have a heart for kids, and there aren’t many more worthwhile occupations. I don’t want to discourage you, but I don’t want you to feel guilty, either, if you decide to leave.

  24. Scribbler says:

    What a fantastic story. As a teacher myself I too worry about some of the kids I teach and how they will turn out. This has given me the inspiration to keep trying in the hope that I can make a difference; it sounds like you were a wonderful teacher.

    • Coming East says:

      Just because you don’t hear back from students doesn’t mean you were a powerful influence on their young lives. We influence our students lives in so many ways that we will never know about.

  25. Good teachers are hard to find. But every once in a while you come across one who make a difference to your life. You made that difference. You gave him the gift of faith and he returned as an unexpected Christmas present.

    • Coming East says:

      Thanks, Gifting. Actually, there are many terrific teachers out there. I was just one of the lucky ones who got to hear back years later about a difference I made in a child’s life.

  26. I LOVE those unexpected treasures in life – they make all of the other muck worth the struggle. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!

  27. Means, you have done something meaningful.
    I worked as a high school teacher in Europe, Latvia for many years. I still receive (after some 15 years) from them wonderful letters, they make me cry sometimes. It’s nice to find out that your former students are doing well and are happy.

  28. Nessy says:

    Good for you, for doing something so small that had very big meaning. Many teachers I know tend to be dismissive when they see students behaving badly. They just get angry and don’t try to understand what the problem really is. Those teachers never even think to give a few words of encouragement and instead make the situation worse. However, the teachers that I remember always are the ones who were not judgmental, who gave me good advice, and who never gave up hope. I am glad that you were able to give that young man the nudge he needed in his life. Sometimes, a little nudge is just what everyone needs. :) Happy holidays, and congrats on Freshly Pressed.

    • Coming East says:

      Thanks, Nessy. I know teaching is darn hard, and I don’t want to be dismissive of teachers who struggle with unruly kids because it can be exhausting. But there are teachers who are so harsh that they miss opportunities to make a difference in some children’s lives. Happy holidays to you, too!

  29. Karma at it’s best…thank you for sharing a piece of how the world went right.

  30. alecrisan says:

    Dear Susan, this is really inspiring. I am currently volunteering as an English teacher at a Home for minor girls that suffered home abuse or violence and I am really struggling. They are not very used to discipline, or I am not capable to impose myself, and things are going very slow. I just hope my work will have at least a bit of an impact here.

  31. tuesday2 says:

    Yes! Thank you for the inspiration.

  32. winsomebella says:

    Back to say yippee for a well-deserved fresh-pressed!

  33. jessicajhill says:

    This warms my heart! Sometimes all kids need is someone to care, and not enough people make those feelings known. Merry Christmas!

  34. Huffygirl says:

    Look at you Susan – a wonderful heart warming story, a blessing from a former student, and Freshly Pressed too. Hurray!

  35. jimceastman says:

    I love your post. very inspiring. He became successful and a better man because of your encouragement!

  36. Juliette says:

    Wonderful article. Thank you so much for sharing this. Now I think I’ll go look up some of my wonderful teachers of long ago and thank them for so much.

  37. Thank you for sharing this. I just started teaching a middle school class, and I despair of making even the smallest impact. Thank you for the reminder that we don’t always know exactly what we have sown until it has come to harvest years later.

  38. pegoleg says:

    What a wonderful story! Thank you for sharing it so eloquently.

  39. Wow! I’m a teacher too and some children get under your skin, what a turn around, it’s a tale of never give up…

  40. Pingback: What’s In Your Cup? Changing The World One Parent at a Time « Turn Around and Swim

  41. That is amazing! We do have the power, even if what seems so small, to make a difference. If we all take a little time to reach out to those who do not color in between the lines, we may find the answers we are all seeking for! Thank you for sharing and congrats on Freshly Pressed!

  42. conanon says:

    And this is why I want to become a teacher. Thank you for saving a young life.

  43. jeangarrell says:

    Reblogged this on njgarrell and commented:
    What we may think are the little things can make the biggest impact.

  44. The Guat says:

    I thought I’d stop by here again and congratulate you on being Freshly Pressed. Muy nice for your Christmas surprise :)

  45. e989 says:

    This is lovely and written very well, I aim to be a teacher and this is truly inspirational, so thanks for sharing this.

    • Coming East says:

      Are you in school now, Chatterbox? Teaching has changed in so many ways over the years, but the children never do. So many still need our support in their lives, even the ones from good, caring homes.

      • e989 says:

        I am currently doing a degree in History, I start a placement in a school in January, in a hope to gain some experience. I totally agree. I know many children that all need a little guidance and someone to believe in them every now and then. How long have you, or did you teach for?

      • Coming East says:

        I was a classroom teacher for sixteen years before I became an academic dean. I was in education for twenty-three years altogether.

      • e989 says:

        Wow, that sounds really cool, what age range have you taught? I am somewhat leaning towards 13+ students.

      • Coming East says:

        I taught 4th grade for one year, and then all my other teaching was with students in sixth, seventh, and eighth grade, ages eleven through fourteen.

      • e989 says:

        Oh lovely, can imagine it was very rewarding seeing them develop through the years.

  46. jaynefranks says:

    Words are like seeds. Once sown you never know what grows out off them. Well done you for planting some fertile ones. Lovely story thanks for sharing

  47. segmation says:

    It brightens my dad to see stories like yours. Thanks for having such a wonderful influence in C’s life!

  48. techietalk says:

    Reblogged this on Techie and commented:
    Teaching is really interesting guiding pupils too.It is an art.

  49. Salman Alvi says:

    Very touching story. What you gave him was priceless, great job! People like you are much needed in this world of ours.

    • Coming East says:

      Thank you, Salman, but I suspect I was just one of many who helped C. along the way. I’m glad I could help in any small way, and I am so tickled that he sought me and let me know how he is doing.

  50. A seed has a lot of potential given the right conditions. Thanks for being a caring person.

    • Coming East says:

      Thanks, Ann. Judging from the direction C. was heading, I couldn’t imagine he could dig himself out of the hole he had created. What strength of character that young man found. I like to think that maybe there was someone caring he met in prison who helped straighten him out.

  51. eof737 says:

    Well deserved… we need more teachers like you.

  52. Teachers are some of the greatest gifts our country offers. I admire and respect a person who devotes their life to teach others. To give of themselves and get little in return. I am glad that you heard from this student. I know that I have memories in my heart of teachers, of what they have shared with me and what they have given me. Thanks for sharing this. Thank you for giving of your life to impact and shape others. Merry Christmas. DAF

  53. I guess we can never know the effect that our words and deeds will have on other people, we have such a responsibility to be good and kind and just plain loving. I’m so glad that C is doing well and that there are still teachers like you in the world. :)

  54. yen says:

    Oh this is so beautiful and heartwarming, Susan! It really made me cry and brightened my day!:) I’m so blessed by his story and by your heart.

  55. yen says:

    What a heartwarming post! It made me cry. I pray that there’d be more teachers like you, Susan.:) totally made my day.

  56. What a fabulous story. I have always considered it a privilege after 20 years of teaching under my belt (so far) to have former students tell me of how I made a mark in their lives for the better. It doesn’t happen every day! It DOES makes the job worthwhile though when it happens – all the more so when they turn their life around and make it good as happened in your story. I can really understand and appreciate your joy!

  57. Val says:

    Not only did he learn his lesson (eventually) but he made an obviously excellent teacher very happy. A1 in my book!

  58. Paula says:

    A touching story …

  59. pattisj says:

    Thank you, Susan, for being “that” teacher, the one who made a difference in the lives she touched. I’m so glad for you to receive this blessing. You sowed into C’s life, and now you are reaping the joy. Can’t think of a better gift than to know the outcome of your influence.

  60. Jennay says:

    Best Christmas present in the world!! You should be proud of yourself for giving him the encouragement he needed! It may have taken some time, but what you said/did had an impact on him. The world needs more “teachers” like you! =)

    • Coming East says:

      Thanks, Jennay. I’d like to think I had a tiny part in setting C on the right path, but in reality, C was the only person who had control over his life. I am so darn proud of him! And there are a lot of teachers out there who make a big difference in children’s lives, but I agree we need more of them.

  61. lulu says:

    Christmas presents do sometimes come unexpectedly and none are better than hearing from someone in whose life you made a difference. We all have the ability to do just that if we just take a moment.

  62. tchistorygal says:

    A friend sent me this story, and like your other readers I have tears in my eyes. We all hoped to have that kind of an impact on all our students. I’m SO glad you did and you shared it! What a beautiful story.

  63. What a beautiful story. I enjoyed reading it and it reminded me of the reasons we become teachers. Take care.

  64. What a great Christmas present to hear from C. again. And, teachers do make a difference by their words of encouragement.

  65. Amy says:

    I’m in tears… Thank you for the heartwarming story, Susan! I want to re-blog your post, okay with you?

  66. What an enormous tribute, CE. And the fact he found you again to get his message across!
    As an English/SAT tutor, it’s always so wonderful to hear back from a student, down the road!

  67. What a wonderful story — I’m so happy for C. and for you, too — it is remarkable what the power of believing in someone can do. What a wonderful gift this season for you!

    • Coming East says:

      My sweet husband believes in me, Julia, and that has made a difference in my life, too. I’m so glad I wrote that letter to C all those years ago. Dang, I wish I could recall what I said!

  68. E.C. says:

    Aw, this is so sweet. I love your unexpected gift. It’s wonderful how you touched C’s life and gave him hope through the years. Bless you, my dear. Happy holidays. :)

    • Coming East says:

      Thanks, EC. C touched my life, too. As we get in in years, we hope even more fervently that we have made a difference, and C has given me the gift that lets me know I have.

  69. THAT is the true meaning of Christmas. Not just his message, but your dedication to him all those years ago, and how he remembered it and wanted to thank you and make you proud. I’m writing this with misty eyes. Congratulations, Susan. You made a difference in the life of a child who became a man.

    • Coming East says:

      I still can’t believe he contacted me after all these years, SC. I hope I get some pictures of his wife and little boy when he’s born. How nice to finally be able to think of him in happy circumstances.

  70. notquiteold says:

    Teachers DO make a difference in their students’ lives.

  71. winsomebella says:

    He made this old woman cry too! The gift you gave him can never be repaid but the gift he gave you will always be cherished. I am glad you shared this wonderful story with us :-)

    • Coming East says:

      Yes, it was such a wonderful gift to hear from him, Stacia. I’ve taught hundreds and hundreds if students over the years, and there still are some that I will never be able to get out of my mind, for one reason or another. C was definitely one of them.

  72. Congratulations to C! Yes, Merry Christmas, Susan!

    • Coming East says:

      I know, Georgette! What a terrific young man to turn his life around like that! He certainly had a lot to overcome, but he has done it, and I wish him continued blessings.

  73. Now that is one of the best gifts I have heard about in a long time. Thanks for sharing that gift of hope with all of us, we all need a little Christmas magic in our lives.

  74. Huffygirl says:

    Sob. What a wonderful heartwarming story. We never know when the small things we do might make a difference. It was a blessing to you to find out how much impact your kind support had.

  75. Tears from me, too. how wonderful.

  76. I loved this! And just think…while you heard from this particular one, I am sure that there are many others thinking the same things. Words are powerful, and you use them well.

    • Coming East says:

      Thank you so much for your kind words, Counsel. All of us, whether we were ever classroom teachers or not, have taught others by the way we live our lives, and C’s story makes me more cognizant than ever that I need to be mindful of ways I can make a difference in people’s lives.

  77. Dianna says:

    Okay…I’m tearing up here. What a beautiful story you’ve shared! It just shows how special you were to that young man that he went to the trouble to find you. He wanted so much to share with you how his life has turned out – I’d say because of you!

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