- By Nathan Allen
"A good teacher is like a candle – it consumes itself to light the way for others"
- Mustafa Kemal Atatürk
Walking down the empty hall by my niece's classroom today, I couldn't help but think back to my own time in school. I was suddenly hit with the realization that the last 15 years of my life probably wouldn't have been possible if it weren't for one particular teacher. How had I missed this before?
Mr. Wilson was the brunt of many kid's jokes in Jr. high school. A short, slender man with nicotine and coffee-stained teeth, he was quite eccentric - and he never tried to hide that fact. He almost had an air of snootiness to him, though looking back, I think he was just an older man who had become very particular and set in his ways - not uncommon as we all age, I think.
What really struck me today was not just the impact he had on me, but also how much he and I actually had in common - even all those years ago. You see, we both got picked on a great deal at that school. In his case, it was just done behind his back. Kids can be monsters, and my entire post-elementary school career could be looked back on as proof.
However, thankfully, what we also had in common was passion - passion for whatever we chose to do in life. I can recall seeing and admiring this, even as a young boy. You see, we're not the type of people to do something just because we can or should. We are both a very deliberate and passionate type of person, and will do whatever it is to the best of our abilities - because every atom of us demands that we do. In fact, I'd venture to say that once an idea takes hold of people like us, it's almost impossible to not take action. For the sake of our mental well-being, it simply must be done.
Mr. Wilson was our Geography teacher, and this is where his true passion lied. He was not one to sit at home and read books about these exotic locations around the world - he actually lived them. He spoke about his travels with great conviction and unending enthusiasm - it seemed that he knew how to pronounce all of the country capitals of the world...just as a local would!
All this seemed to be lost on most of the kids, but there I was - the shy, awkward 12 year-old with practically no friends. What I lacked in companionship I made up for with a boundless imagination and thirst for his adventurous stories. However, I was too reserved to ever tell him how much I appreciated his class each day - the very same class the "cool kids" seemed to despise.
Here I am all these years later, having had some of my own adventures around the world. I started a travel / culture website, and it has grown far beyond me. It is a community of thousands of like-minded individuals-true admirers of beauty and culture-and I just wish Mr. Wilson could see what he helped inspire all those years ago. That was a time before Internet technology, and I'd love for him to see how this technology has enabled me to travel independently, and full time. I'd like to think he'd get a kick out of that.
90% of the time that I post photos and stories on Facebook, I have the same people "liking" and commenting on them. This can give me the false impression that these are the only people who are seeing my posts. However, once every few months, I somehow manage to inspire those "silent appreciators" to visibly "like" something - thereby showing me they are still out there following along. I must say, it's a great feeling to know that you haven't lost this connection with people in your life, especially as you begin to reach many more over time.
My message to you teachers is this:
As you know, we students don't always tell you how important you are to us. Please know that at least *some* of us, even after all these years, haven't forgotten the lessons you taught us, the stories you shared, and the good example you showed us at that young, impressionable stage in our lives. Perhaps we neglected to tell you these things when we had the chance, but we will never forget who you are and what you did for us.
At the end of the day, children may be our future, but you teachers are the ones shaping that future.
...and to Mr. Wilson specifically, from myself and perhaps thousands of others, I can finally say:
Thank you. Thank you for sharing your passion with me, for showing me that a life of grand adventure was not out of reach to a painfully awkward kid like me. Thank you for continuing to fight for our education, even when we didn't seem to appreciate it...or for that matter, you.
PS...I'm not sure if Mr. Wilson is still around to read this letter, but I hope you'll share this with the teachers in your life, and even consider writing to thank a teacher that had a big impact on YOU. Teaching is truly a labor of passion - and unfortunately one that comes with very little compensation.
Let's give a little back, and remind our teachers the difference they are making in the world :)
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