I opened my email this morning and found this amazing message:
"I just wanted to extend a massive thank you. I have had a grueling two months filled with surgeries and unpleasant chemo strains. My escape? Reading. Your vivid stories have made my pain bearable as I escape into the escapades of your believable characters. They had me laughing when it didn't seem possible to laugh! Thank you for sharing your talent with the world. I can't put into words how much it means to me and how much it has helped me."
Which seems like a great way to slide into a celebration of Teacher Appreciation Week. Just as writers only hear from some of the people for whom they'd made a difference, teachers often don't get feedback about their small and large miracles, or only find out years later when a student drops by. I know my daughter has touched a lot of lives. So have all of my teacher friends. Let's celebrate teachers this week, for real. Let's share stories of the amazing educators who have touched our lives. (And let's not forget that librarians are teachers.) To kick things off, here's a brief excerpt from the essay my daughter and I wrote (in the form of a dialogue) for a pop culture book on Ender's Game, where we discuss the impact teachers and writers can have.
D: Speaking of trust and intimacy, I find it fascinating that we get the shift to first person for Ender, Valentine, and even Bean, but not for Peter. Peter, alone, remains shadowy, never fully revealed by the tools of viewpoint. The problem is, writers can do all these brilliant things, and then they wait for someone to notice them. Writing is one of the most difficult art forms for those who crave a response. (I plead guilty to this weakness. Validation is my drug of choice.) If I paint or draw, I can get immediate feedback, or at least validation in the form of a gasp of delight when I unveil the canvas. If I compose, you merely have to sit back and listen. But if I want you to respond to a novel, I need patience on my part and cooperation on yours.
A: And this is exactly what teaching is like—the time and patience that go into guiding a student to becoming whoever she will be doesn’t have immediate rewards (aside from the occasional parent-mandated thank-you note at the end of the year).
D: Happily, most of your work stays in print for many decades. And if you teach for long enough, you'll even get to work on sequels.
A: And I frequently teach different editions. Sometimes I’ve taught several kids from the same family.
D: Of course, like most analogies, this one also offers interesting contrasts. A book reaches many people for a brief period (though the memory can last a lifetime). A teacher reaches fewer people, but for a prolonged interaction.
A: As a teacher, you may change a student’s life (for better or worse!) but part of the job is being ok with the idea that you might never know the impact you have. I can see how writers and teachers are both creators, but with a teacher, so much depends on the student herself. Two autonomous agents are working toward (again, hopefully) the same goal—learning, growth, and development. Creating a future.
One more thought for my teacher friends. Whenever I see someone post "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach." I like to respond, "Those who can't think, quote."