How Two Teachers Who Really Saw Me Changed My Life
Kids have it a lot harder than people give them credit for. Teenagers often have it the worst. When you’re a teen, it can feel like you’re constantly at odds with every adult around you. I know that’s how I felt.
During high school, despite being an honor student, drama club president, an editor for the school newspaper, and an all-around good kid, the majority of the adults in my life acted like I was always trying to pull one over on them. Like I was guilty of something — they just didn’t know what. It got tiring and as a result, I felt defensive, perpetually at odds with most of the adults around me, with a few exceptions. I’m going to tell you about the exceptional two.
Mr. Connor was my history teacher for two years during high school and the teacher adviser to the school newspaper. This meant I got to know him fairly well, about as well as a student can know their teacher. He was on the younger side for a teacher, too, probably not much older than I am today. As a result, I think he truly remembered what it felt like to be a teenager — the sleepless nights and thankless days filled with other people’s rules, homework, and uncertainty. His youth may have also accounted for the fact that Mr. Connor still had a love and exuberance for teaching, but I suspect he never lost that zest, not even now, years later.
I had a lot of health problems during high school, of which not all my teachers, including my high school principal, were understanding. I had to have two major surgeries during those four years, one during freshman year and one junior year — coincidentally, the same two years in which Mr. Connor was my teacher.
I’ll never forget a specific meeting with Mr. Connor. It was a few weeks after my first surgery my freshman year. I was staying late after school to make up for a test. Every quarter, Mr. Connor had his honors-level students write a term paper and I was late turning mine in due to the aforementioned surgery. As I began to bring up a possible timeline to Mr. C., he gently cut me off. “I’ve been thinking and I’ve decided to give you a pass on this one. Don’t worry about the paper, you’ve been through enough.” I was dumbfounded. To this day, I’m sure whatever I said did nothing to express the immense level of gratitude I felt in that moment. Mr. Connor hadn’t just seen me as a student, as someone over whom he wielded authority, he had seen me as a person. A person who had just been through a trauma and was in desperate need of a break. When it came time for me to ask two teachers to write college recommendation letters, you can best believe that one of them was Mr. Connor. The other one was Mr. Michelson.
"These two exceptional teachers saw me as more than just a name on roll call, a grade on a test. They saw me as a person. Their kindness made all the difference in the world to me and honestly changed my life. That is the power of a truly great teacher."
Mr. Michelson, or Mr. Mike, as we called him, was my physics teacher my junior year. Junior year was an especially difficult time for me, filled with chronic pain and appointments with a plethora of doctors, ultimately culminating in a second surgery to correct complications caused by the first. As you can imagine, I missed a great deal of school.
Mr. Mike never gave up on me. I remember one time when I did especially poorly on a test, Mr. Mike handed it back to me and half-jokingly said, “I took this as a personal insult.” He tried to help me catch up, and it was in large part due to his efforts that I managed to maintain a solid C average in his class — the lowest of my grades that year. However, my absences caught up with me when I blew the final at the end of the year and it dragged my overall physics grade down to a disappointing D.
I had never received a D in a class before. It was a deep, dark blemish on my high school transcript and troubled me when it came to my prospects for college. I decided that my only recourse was to ask Mr. Mike to write me a college recommendation, which he agreed to do without hesitation. “Allie has all the qualities you would want in a college student,” he wrote. “I have no doubt that if she had not been absent due to her illness, she would have done significantly better in my class.” I will always believe that Mr. Mike’s recommendation, which negated the lowest grade on my transcript, is one of the biggest factors that led to me being accepted by my top-choice college.
To this day, years after my high school graduation, years since I’ve even seen either one of them, I still think of Mr. Connor and Mr. Mike and the empathy they both showed me when I needed it most. These two teachers didn’t have to go out of their way to help me, but they did. These two exceptional teachers saw me as more than just a name on roll call, a grade on a test. They saw me as a person. Their kindness made all the difference in the world to me and honestly changed my life. That is the power of a truly great teacher.
This post is part of a series honoring beloved teachers who make a difference with their kindness, love, and wisdom each day. Thank you to all of our educators from all of us at CircleAround.com. To read other stories in this series, please click here.