It was ten word, only two sentences, but so much more. The preschool teacher who has seen class after class come and go through her doors over the years told my 5 year old daughter, “You are such a joy. I will NEVER forget you”. My daughter continued playing with her My Little Pony in the little space ship she had made on her make-believe flight to the moon oblivious about the complement just given to her. But I caught it, and it was so sweet, and it immediately got me thinking about the school teachers in my life who have meant so much over the years.
In elementary school there was Mrs. Parsons. She was actually my next door neighbor and also my first grade teacher and she was demanding. I wasn’t adjusting well to school and would give my mother such a hard time about going and Mrs. Parsons was the one who snapped me out of it and told me to stop giving my parents such a hard time. She also gave me focus. I’d shovel her driveway in the winter and mow her lawn in the summer and learn the value of earning money for hard work. In second grade I had Ms. Weiner. She’d give us stars on the chalkboard and if we earned ten stars, she’d make us popcorn. I was seven years old. That was the coolest thing ever. When I got my tonsils out, the entire class made me cards in the hospital. I was a kid and I’ll never forget the courageous way she carried herself even when she battled cancer.
In middle school there was Mr. Ford. He was the music teacher and the band instructor, the guy who actually made it a homework assignment for us to try and create our own 1980’s music videos. He taught us the classics, from Brahms, to Beethoven, to Quiet Riot. He made me learn to appreciate the same classical music that our dad would often torture us with at home. Long before Mr Holland’s Opus, there was Mr Ford. He eventually left teaching and became a police officer- leaving one tough job for another. And when he pulled my friends and I over for speeding one day years later, it became clear he was still handing out lessons even outside the classroom.
In high school I had so many influences. In Mr. Payne’s English class, I’d always put quotes from songs on the end of each term paper that related to what I wrote about. Music was my passion. Mr. Payne knew I wanted to be in radio. One day I decided to grade my own term paper for him- and then I handed it in with red marks and all. He handed it back and had graded my grading– writing, “Close, but not quite.” And I’ll never forget one day when he countered my musical quote I left on the paper– a lyric from Bob Seger’s “Turn The Page”– with a quote of his own telling me not to be afraid to chase my dreams.
I went to college and majored in broadcasting destined to begin a career in radio. I took one journalism course for non-majors- just one. My professor was Jim Thistle who had made an entire career for himself in Boston TV news. I graduated from school and continued slugging it out in radio and one day the phone rang. Professor Thistle told me that ABC in Boston needed news writers and he had thought of me. He tracked me down after I was out of school for six months and changed everything with one call. I got my first TV job at ABC, went on to write and to produce. He brought me back once to speak to his class and I got to visit him a couple of times over the years before he died. Four Emmy awards and fifteen years later, I am the Managing Editor at one of the largest local news stations in the country here in Los Angeles. I owe much of it to that one phone call from a professor who never needed to make it.
When you’re going through the motions of school over the years, you never stop to think about the sacrifices teachers are making, about the impact they’re making, about the imprint they’re making. And then all of a sudden, one day, years later, when your daughter is playing with My Little Pony on a pretend rocket trip to the moon, it clicks. In the same way her teacher said, “I will NEVER forget you”, I want to say the same thing to some of my own past teachers. I just wish I had said it sooner.