Opinion: No greater gift than student’s appreciation

A longtime teacher says, “There is no greater gift than a student’s appreciation.’ (AJC File)

Retired Woodward Academy English teacher Carolyn Haldeman called me about using a quote in a book she is writing about teaching. She taught at Woodward for 44 years before retiring in 2015, but now conducts afternoon ESOL workshops for the school.

I enjoyed our chat and passed Carolyn’s name to my husband and fellow AJC reporter Bo Emerson for a story he was preparing on favorite teacher gifts. Carolyn then sent me a follow-up that I am sharing here with her permission.

By Carolyn Haldeman

I woke up with the answer to your husband writer’s question about great gifts from students.  The absolutely greatest Christmas gifts happening right now are the holiday greeting cards from former students.  The first “Happy Holidays” card came from Farisa Khalid, mailed Nov. 21 from D.C., where she works.

Each year the cards with photos show the progression of former students’ lives.  Paul and Allison Turk, dorm students when we were dorm parents from 1972-1983, send annual cards of their family, including a daughter and two sons, usually with a backdrop from some wonderful vacation spot. Now their children are grown, and last year there was a young lady in the photo who had not been there the year before.  I am looking forward to grandchildren in this family soon.

Another dorm couple who were unlikely to fall in love, but did, are Alan Brandes, who led the Jewish services for students, and Elizabeth Peacock, daughter of a Baptist preacher. Both remain practicing members of their faiths. I asked what holidays they celebrate with their sons and Alan said, “All of them.”

There is no greater gift than a student’s appreciation. A star of Woodward plays, Eyad Houssami is now a writer (“Doomed by Hope: Essays on Arab Theatre,” 2012) and editor of the Arabic-English literary and academic journal in Beirut. Here is what Eyad wrote to me. “I remain oh so grateful for the passion and curiosity that you shared with us all — bratty, arrogant, and riddled with raging teenage hormones, as we were.”

I usually don’t hear much from the students who are in college unless they need help with a paper, but I love their first excited emails regarding first jobs.

I also am honored when former students share their fears and disappointments — the ones who decide that they don’t really like their majors, the ones in the trials of a bad marriage, and the ones with a cancer diagnosis. In those particular cases, I am happy to report that all is now better for the students to whom I refer — nothing to do with me, but they let me be there in their most vulnerable times.

My own three children used to complain occasionally that their friends could tell me all sorts of things and not be judged whereas I “freaked out” over them. Yep. True. As parents, you know that we can be objective about everyone except our own.  Then, it’s personal.

Reader Comments 0

7 comments
Peter_Smagorinsky
Peter_Smagorinsky

Facebook has been a great way for me to keep up with students I taught in the Chicago area in the 70s and 80s, even though I've moved a few times to different regions of the country and no longer teach high school English. It's always great to reconnect and hear how they're doing.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

I am fortunate to live in the same community in which I did most of my teaching. This means I see a good bit of my former students.  Sometimes, sadly, it is on the police blotter, and a few times it has been in the obituaries.  But most of the time it is in little bits and pieces, as I run into them in the grocery, in the library, in the voting line, in the post office, in restaurants, and even at school as they bring their own children in.  Most every meeting is a gift, as they tell me what they have been doing, who they married, and about their kids.  Sometimes they tell me they wish I had taught their children, which is like giving me a bouquet of flowers.


Frequently I see their parents, growing old now, and they remind me of things we talked about "back then," and of the avenues their children have explored.


But, the best time to me is when the former students share things they remember from our class together--things I did that I thought was important (and it turned out to be so)--as well as things I hardly remember, but that turned out to be important to them.


My last day at school before retirement, as the time dwindled down, a group of former students, now fellow teachers, gathered in my room and talked to each other about what they remembered--the songs, games, stories, and life lessons that were a part of our curriculum (this was before state-mandated micromanagement). I admit I wept a little bit, out of joy and sadness and a profound sense of pride in them and their accomplishments, and thankfulness that I got to watch them as they grew up and went out into the community to assume leadership positions of all types.


So, Maureen, you might tell Mr. Emerson that these are among the best kinds of gifts teachers can get.

Elisa Maria Chiara
Elisa Maria Chiara

I have saved cards and gifts no matter how small from students I have had in my graduate internship. Some I used to decorate my subject binders for the classes I was teaching, some I have in my bedroom. They are my most cherished mementos. One in particular, I photographed and still keep in my phone. Birthday note my kiddos wrote on the whiteboard during my most painful year to date. THEY kept me going and I will NEVER FORGET THEM.

Elisa Maria Chiara
Elisa Maria Chiara

I’ll have to show you which one if is. I can’t use it as my locked screen or I would lose it every other day.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

For years I saved notes from their parents for those dark days when things didn't seem to be turning out as I had planned.  I would get out The Folder and read the things their parents shared with me, and the world seemed brighter afterward.


I also still have some of the "love notes" the children left for me, and looking at them and thinking of the child's face would brighten anyone's day.

SavTeacher
SavTeacher

As a current teacher, I love to hear from former students who check in with me after their first semester of college or university. They will thank me for making them write and rewrite papers. They often tell me it was what helped them the most, being able to express their thoughts on paper. . It always makes me feel like what I am doing actually matters, especially after a very tough semester of complaining current students.