As the school year winds down to an end, former students recall certain teachers. As adults these men and women are still especially impressed with the expectations of some teachers. Too many times in the midst of all the paperwork, the job demands, the various problems and promises that each child brings, the low pay, long hours and lack of contact after graduation, it is easy for teachers to be discouraged. To feel forgotten.
Students do remember their teachers: the good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful. Yes, students do remember a teacher’s worst days as a recent conversation with our son Randy revealed.
“Do you remember Mr. Reed, the math teacher?” Randy asked his dad during a recent visit.
It has been 40 years, still “Yes, I do.” my husband said.
“I saw him recently. He was not one of the teachers that I liked. I liked many other teachers a lot more than him. They were friendly. One day, I showed up for class without my homework – again. He yanked me up and hauled me out of the classroom to the hall and slammed me up against the wall. He screamed in my face. He said I was wasting my potential. He screamed I could do better, and he wanted to see it.”
My husband and I listened in awe. We had never heard this story before.
“Well, I drove into a gas station recently and there he was. I walked over to him and said, “Hi! Mr. Reed.’ he turned and looked at me. ‘Do you remember me?’ I asked him.”
“He looked at me rather cautiously. ‘Maybe.’”
“I’m Randy Hershberger. I was in your math class. I didn’t always do my homework. One day you grabbed me and took me outside the class….”
“Mr. Reed backed up. He kind of raised his hands in protest and interrupted me, ‘That was before I was a Christian.’”
“No. No. I’m not upset. I just wanted to tell you that I have often thought about that day. I now realize, you really cared about me. You wanted the best for me. I know you were tough, but you were tough because you knew I could do better and you wanted me to try and do it. Other teachers may have known I could do more, but not many cared enough to get my attention and tell me that.”
“As I talked, he relaxed and smiled.”
“I told him, ‘I had a lot of other teachers that I really liked and I thought liked me. But you, I remember as someone who wanted me to do my best. You were the one who insisted I could do better and made sure I knew that it upset you when I did not even try. None of the other teachers did that. You really cared about me and what I was doing.’”
“Well, thank you for telling me,” Reed said reaching out to shake Randy’s hand. When the two parted, Mr. Reed glowed with the praise. Yes, he had been tough on Randy, but his toughness came from the frustration of seeing a kid repeatedly wasting his potential, thinking it did not matter and it did.
His frustration got Randy’s attention so that 40 years later the former reluctant scholar remembers one teacher who desperately wanted one student to try.
Mr. Reed does not stand alone. He serves as a reminder that sometimes, even on the worst day ever, a student will read between the lines that a teacher really cares.