Last week I posted a letter I would have liked to have sent to my third-grade teacher, Mrs. Zunker. We all have teachers we loved and whose memory and lessons were sweetly remembered. Unfortunately, most of us have also had teachers we would rather forget but can’t because their impact is also indelibly entered into our minds. As tomorrow is the first day of school for nearly every school child who hasn’t already started, I post the following letter in hopes that teachers will remember that they don’t teach a subject; they teach children and their lessons last long after the teaching is done.
Letter to My High School Math Teacher
Dear Mr. Whittaker,
As I was looking at an old high school yearbook and came across your picture, it occurred to me that I never thanked you for all the lessons you taught me. I don’t think you will remember me, but I will never forget you. I remember how you would laugh at me if I made an attempt at an answer and it was wrong. I know you were trying to teach me never to raise my hand unless I was sure I was right or unless I enjoyed being humiliated. I remember the angry red marks you would plaster all over my math papers, letting me know that not only was I wrong, but I didn’t have even one spark of mathematical intelligence to help me figure out the correct answer. I learned that being on the right track is meaningless, so why even try.
I will never forget that day when you looked right at me and said, in front of the whole class, “There is a giraffe at the carnival in the A&P parking lot whose name is also Susie, and she has a very long neck, too.” I hope you appreciated how much laughter I received for being the butt of your joke, because it taught me to be self-conscious about my looks. I wore a lot of scarves that year. My father came and talked to you after the Susie Giraffe incident and told you that you were my favorite teacher. I hate to tell you that he was lying, but he did it to make you stop picking on me. Since it worked for a little while, it taught me that some people can get good results through deception. I never learned that lesson, however, because I always felt the truth was important, no matter what it cost you, and I resented my father for letting you think I admired you.
So, except for that last lesson, I think you did a pretty good job of teaching me to feel anxious, stupid, and ugly. Oh, and one last lesson. You taught me to hate math. I learned that one really well.