Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Teachable Moment

Like many of those in my peer group, turning 50 this year had me thinking about the Bucket List.  Unlike many of those in my peer group, my List was rather pedestrian.  No scaling K2 or swimming the English Channel for me.  Those sounded hard, and frankly, a little desperate.  I had things on my List that I could enjoy a beer while doing.  In life, you need to learn to prioritize. 

Near the top of the List was the desire to reach out to a few folks and let them know how much I appreciated their positive impact on my life to date.  Grandparents always preach the value of a well written and timely thank you note, and I now recognize that this is sound advice.  I am not finished the task as the list of folks is long, but I am gratified that I have gotten started.  A journey of 1,000 miles begins with one step, or something like that.  More accurately, the journey begins with a fair helping of dread.  1,000 miles is pretty far.

For many years, I have had on my List to drop a note to one of my former teachers and thank him.  It should have been easy, but the sirens song of procrastination was too attractive.  Finally, I tuned out the song and I wrote. 

The note is below.  I share this in the hopes that one of you, or all of you, will be inspired to do the same.  Teachers can and do make a difference, often years after we have left their classrooms.  From time to time, we should let those teachers know how the ripple they created changed someone’s world, or maybe the whole world:

Mr. Maier,

I had the pleasure of taking your class during my Senior year at CBA in 1979-1980.  While it is unlikely that you remember me, I do remember you and everything I learned in your class about writing an essay.  I wanted to take a moment to thank you because the lessons I learned from you 32 years ago have helped me throughout my career.

As you are no doubt aware, effective writing is becoming a lost art form.  Fewer Americans are entering the workforce with the ability to write a persuasive essay, or even the ability to string together a series of related ideas.  Thanks to your class, I knew that a good essay opened with a general idea that funnels to a specific thesis statement.  I knew that I needed three supporting ideas for my thesis.  I knew that an effective closing paragraph restated the thesis and expanded back to my general idea.  Thanks to your class, I could write. 

I have procrastinated writing this brief note to you for one simple reason.  I knew in my heart of hearts that whatever I wrote would be graded.  I feared that my note would not be well written, or that you would notice grammatical errors that I had overlooked.  Then I remembered two things.  First, I already graduated and my CBA diploma cannot be revoked because of one poorly constructed email written 32 years after graduation.  Second, letting you know that you impacted a former student’s life in a positive manner is more important than my fear of failure.

I hope this note finds you well.  Thanks again for being a teacher that matters.

Joe Sherrier

I am happy to report that Mr. Maier (I’m 50 – can I call him Bob yet?) responded:


It is very good to here from you.  I appreciate your kind remarks.  I'm sure you realize that teaching is one of those professions where what you do is rarely appreciated at the time you do it.  But it's always satisfying to here from someone who recognizes the value of a good education. 

If you are ever in the area, stop by and say hello.  By the way, I'd give your message a solid A.  Thanks again.

Bob Maier

I did not anticipate how good hearing the response would be.  It was certainly not the driver of my decision to write to Mr. Maier, but it was definitely a nice side benefit.  Perhaps my note caused a positive ripple somewhere. 

I feel better that I can cross this project off my List.  I hope you will accept my challenge and do the same.  Drop a thank you note to a former teacher.  Now, it’s time to attack the next item on my List – watch the original movie version of The Manchurian Candidate.  I can have a beer while accomplishing that.

999 miles to go. 

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