When I was a young guy in grade school I was always the smartest kid in class. This was nice but when I entered junior high it wasn't very cool to be smart so I dumbed things down quite a bit. By the time I entered high school, I was no longer taking any advanced classes, I was struggling with an average at best GPA, and it was a fair secret that I was bright at all. But then I entered your Honors Seminar English class my senior year. It changed my life. I mean it. It literally changed my life and put me on the path I currently walk.
I remember sitting in your classroom of about 30 students, all of whom were brilliant. These are kids who would go on to Duke, Stanford, Yale, Julliard, Reed, and become doctors, engineers, professors, musicians, trainers for the FBI, writers, etc... I remember being the only kid who had a Letterman's jacket. It took my a long time to reclaim my intellectual side. In fact, I may have mingled with those academic superstars a little much and showed them the dark side a bit. For one project after reading Hamlet, our assignment was to create a physical piece that showed something about the play. A group of boys and I wrote a rap about the play and recorded it. The name of our group was "Doggy Style" and I still remember the first part of our song:
Doggy Style, that is our name
Rappin' 'bout Hamlet, that is our game.
We're not doing this 'cause we wanna get paid,
We're doin' it 'cause we wanna get laid!
It was so sophomoric and ridiculous but you gave us the freedom to try on different hats to see how they fit. I don't remember our grade, but 29 years later I remember the verse. I also remember reading Of Mice and Men and you had each student rewrite the ending. Then when we were all finished, you had each student read their new ending aloud to the class. I was an idiot, still playing the role of idiot so my ending was a handwritten 12-page homo-erotic tale of love between George and Lennie. I included some fairly graphic scenes (although I still say they were tastefully done) and I worked my ass off on that piece. I was anticipating uproarious laughter and universal acclaim when I read it to the class. Instead, I read for 30 minutes to a horrified, completely silent group of kids. I didn't get one chuckle. In fact, I was completely lambasted by my peers for being so gross. Your feedback focused strictly on my writing and said that it could have been a bit less graphic in parts, but all in all was very creative. That was the turning point for me. You let me figure out that it was ok to be smart. You didn't slam me for trying to be a clown; you just made me want to impress you and the only way to do that was to let my intellect shine through. That changed me.
I remember that when we would read a short essay, poem, or story, we'd always go around the room and everyone would give a one-word response. Then you'd pick a couple people to elaborate and our discussion would begin. My goal in life was to have you pick me on those days. I wanted my word to have the insight you were looking for. I wanted validation that I could still be smart. As that year went on, I started getting called on more and more.
I remember about two-thirds though the year that becoming an English teacher wouldn't be such a bad way to make a living. I looked at the impact you had on me and I wanted to do the same for other lost kids. Now I'm 47 and I'm in my 23rd year of teaching English. I am nowhere near the educator you were. I never will be. But I still want to please you. You are still my litmus test. I evaluate each day's lesson and compare it to your lessons of 29 years ago. I inevitably come up short but I'm still trying.
I regret not telling you this before now. Toward the end of our senior year you had each student write a letter to themselves, saying that you would mail them in one calendar year. I wrote a letter full of regret for not embracing my intellectual side earlier. The letter you sent back a year later was not from me but from you. You told me that I was smart and that high school didn't really mean a Goddamn thing. That I would make my mark later. That I was talented. That you were proud of me and that you knew I was a good and honorable guy. You told me that I could do anything I could imagine if I just tried. Well Trece, I wanted to become a teacher of young people and I did it. I wanted to make a difference in children's lives and I hope that I do. I really miss you right now and wish that we could talk about this in person. But from the bottom of my heart and the depths of my soul, thank you for everything. I love you so much and am so grateful for your guidance.
Your forever student,