I saw her in the Winn-Dixie parking lot. I was walking in. She was coming out. I recognized her right off.
I’ve changed a lot over the years. She hasn’t. She looks like she did when I sat in her English class long ago. White hair, pearls, dressed to the nines.
She taught night classes.
Back then, I’d arrive at campus early. I’d eat supper in my truck—a pimento cheese sandwich—while doing homework. Then, I’d change my work-shirt and go inside.
Hers was the only class I didn’t hate.
She wasn’t an overly friendly woman. And because of this, several students didn’t care for her. But she was kind to me during a time when I felt lost.
And in my book that’s a good teacher.
Though as it happens, I’m not exactly what you’d call a good pupil. I never have been. In my school career, I’ve spent most of my accredited hours trying to figure out whether the professors were speaking graduate-level Pig-Latin.
After my first semester with her, I signed up for her English II course. After I graduated, I took two more of her classes, just because I liked her.
My mama asked why on earth I’d go to the trouble, taking classes I didn’t need.
I hate goodbyes, I guess.
I remember when her husband passed. She didn’t come to school for a week. The entire night-class-full of construction grunts and cocktail waitresses buried her desk in sympathy cards.
I went to the funeral with another student. We both wore neckties. She cried when she saw us.
We returned the favor.
The night of our last class, I remember her saying, “I’ve enjoyed having you, you’re a smart boy.”
That might seem like a small word. But she’s one of the only teachers who’s ever gone and said that. That single kindhearted sentence has done me a lot of good over the years.
That evening, she asked what I’d be doing with my degree.
I told her I hadn’t attended college for a career, but because of a promise I’d made to a dead man.
Today she was that same woman.
She patted my cheek and said, “You look so old.”
I blushed. We embraced.
I offered to roll her shopping buggy to her vehicle. I loaded her groceries. We talked. She still teaches night-classes, I still drive an ugly truck.
Before we said goodbye, she said, “You know, when I first became a teacher I thought I was gonna make a big difference in the world, but somewhere along the way, I realized that’s not who I am.”
I gave her one final hug and told her I disagreed.
Because she sure as hell made a difference in my life.
Shirley Hammond - January 19, 2017 3:22 pm
Michael Hawke - January 19, 2017 3:26 pm
My wife is a retired teacher. We were in the Publix parking lot in Dothan when A young man she had taught in elementary school stopped us. He couldn’t remember my wife’s name but he remembered her from her first teaching assignment. That was a long time ago for both of them. Those moments mean the world to her.
Judy - January 19, 2017 4:36 pm
What a lovely tribute. We are indeed fortunate if we can find one teacher that made a difference in our life.
Cooper Green - January 19, 2017 5:02 pm
One difference she made in the world just touched my heart and brought a tear to my eye. We’re all connected. Thanks, Sean.
Jeanne - January 20, 2017 4:34 am
Beautiful story Sean!
sherry k. - January 20, 2017 4:51 am
My favorite teacher passed away this year. She made a big difference in my life. I always hoped she would be proud of that.
Carol DeLater - January 20, 2017 1:38 pm
There is a lot to you. I’d like to read your real story. From beginning to end…which has not yet come, so until today. If a person is lucky they have known at least one teacher that was special to them and that teacher made them feel they were especially special to the teacher. That was my 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Brown. 60 years have passed and I remember everything about her and how kind she was. I never told her even one of my secrets. Maybe she knew I had them, like some teachers can suspect but she never asked a question. It’s a good thing.
I guess your teacher knew even then you had a way with words.
Joseph Mullan - February 21, 2017 3:11 pm
Still a really good read the second time around .. thank you..
Beverly - February 21, 2017 3:48 pm
Whether it be a teacher or anyone….if they tell us we are smart we never forget it…..one word….changes your life….good words and bad words. Love your words, Sean !!
Come see me in Argyle….bet there’s a story here, too!
Suzanne - February 21, 2017 4:12 pm
Don’t know why but this
Suzanne - February 21, 2017 4:15 pm
Don’t know why but this story brought tears to my eyes…when one life touches another’s heart it’s beautuful.
Kathy - February 21, 2017 8:56 pm
I, too, had an English teacher that made such an impression on me. It was 8th grade and her name was Mrs. Bonifay. She dressed impeccably and her make up was perfect. She was the only English teacher who taught us how to outline correctly and I never forgot it. I loved English because of her.
Teresa Butts - March 3, 2017 9:04 pm
I hope you told her that you are an essayist. That, in and of itself, is a tribute to her influence. Keep writing, Sean. You have a lot to say that many of us need to be reminded of. I appreciate your work.
Susan Hammett Poole - November 28, 2017 10:29 am
It’s funny how a word of thanks can make a person feel valued. That happened to me several years after helping a 1st grade boy with his reading while I was a teacher’s aide. Skip was a bit slow to catch on to pronouncing words on a page and reading. In my mind, I was not able to make much of a dent in his reading skills. But one day, this tall young man came up to me in a restaurant, introduced himself and thanked me for patiently taking time with him 15 years ago, teaching him to read. I’ve never forgotten that random compliment.
Mike Jackson - January 19, 2018 2:45 pm
Mrs. Melinda Wakefield of Montgomery, AL, this is for you…
May God continue to bless you and your family.
jan w connell - January 19, 2018 2:49 pm
Such a gift of writing you have. Love this!
Charaleen Wright - March 22, 2019 4:33 am