1. When did you realize you were a grown up? What did this mean for you? Shock to the system? Mourning of halcyon younger days? Or the embracing of the knowledge that you can do all the cool stuff adults do: drink wine, go on parent-free vacations, eat chocolate without reprimand?
2. No one does it alone. Write a letter to your rescuer or mentor (be it a person, book, film, record, anything). Share the way they lit up your path.
Let's try the second prompt today.
Dear Mrs. Simmons,
You may not remember me, but you were my English teacher for several classes in high school, most notably the advanced literature classes. I was the one who wrote a book report on "Fanny Hill." (And I worked really hard to justify that book, which you recognized with an "A," thankyouverymuch).
You also introduced me to all the works of J.D. Salinger, among many others, and the philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard. And taught me the foundations of literary analysis and criticism. And how to write a well-organized, well-researched paper, as well as many creative essay topics, and how to defend my opinions (which were certainly strong ones, weren't they!)
You encouraged discussion in our classroom, and we responded. Looking back, those classes included some of the brightest and best students in my class, and while I sometimes fumed at the lively and diverse and opinionated discourse, I was never bored.
You not only challenged me to read and to analyze what I was reading, your techniques and methods became the foundation for my own classroom (I taught high school English and speech classes for just three years, but in my work in marketing/public relations/communications, I had the opportunity to mentor many assistants and interns over the years.)
You were not my favorite teacher, at least while I was in school. I don't think I was your favorite student either. But when I think back on the teachers/mentors throughout my life, you had a huge impact on who I have become and the process of how I got there.
I didn't major in English because of you; I majored in English because, when I realized halfway through my freshman year that I was NOT going to be a Methodist minister after all and that indeed I had some serious philosophical and theological questions about the whole thing (and I'm sure you are not surprised), I chose the subject I'd always most loved and excelled in. I am and have always been a reader and a writer. But you saw that from the first day, didn't you. You encouraged and pushed and challenged me, all the while maintaining your very practical persona: a middle-aged, somewhat frumpy teacher who'd been in the classroom for years.
Thank you for all those years of grading essays, of leading classes through Shakespeare and Moby Dick and Canterbury Tales and so many others, and still keeping it fresh and current, of listening to such highly opinionated and self-important juniors and seniors for yet another year, and for keeping us on track. Thank you for teaching me how to teach: I learned more from you than from all the college education classes and student teaching hours. Thank you for helping me find my voice and encouraging all of us to speak our minds, and to be respectful of each other as we did it. I don't think classrooms like yours exist anymore, and that is an enormous loss for today's students.
With deepest respect and gratitude,
Note: While this was not the letter I wrote, I did write a letter of similar thanks to Mrs. Simmons some 10 years after I graduated high school. She wrote a lovely letter back and told me that she'd never received a thank-you from one of her students before mine, and we exchanged several more letters. Since then, I have tried to express thanks and appreciation more often to those who have helped or influenced me deeply.