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Musings: The Letter That Nobody Wrote

C. B. Wahler

You may look back on the year and wonder, what difference did I make? Whose life did I touch? And will anyone remember?

Monday, June 11, 2018

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D ear Morah, 

You weren’t expecting a thank-you letter from me, were you? After all, you weren’t my mechaneches. You weren’t involved with my class on a day-to-day basis. You didn’t arrange Shabbaton or yearbook or production or convention, or have any of the other myriad positions that set one high school teacher apart from the rest.

You’re the single-subject, once-a-week teacher, whose lessons we enjoyed but never raved over; listened to but rarely debated; took notes on that we aren’t likely to refer back to.

On our finals, a few of the more thoughtful among us added a little “Thank you for the inspiring lessons!” on the bottom of the paper. And you smile at the little ode of appreciation and say goodbye at the end of June, and walk away. Without the cards and balloons and flowers and fanfare, without tears and DMCs and promises to stay in touch.

You may look back on the year and wonder, what difference did I make? Whose life did I touch? And will anyone remember?

But when I look back on the year, this is what I see: a regular teacher, who came to class each week prepared. Reliable. Knowledgeable. A teacher who dressed with refinement and dignity and good taste. A teacher who smiled at us — not just in class, but when she met us in the hallways, on the streets, who stopped to ask “how are you,” and wished us good luck one the Regents. And even if we barely responded, we cared.

No, we didn’t come after you in droves for private attention, for those coveted conversations during a quiet period, to pour out our hearts or bare our souls. But we knew that we could, and maybe that’s all that mattered.

You might wonder if anything you said made a difference, if anything you taught ever went further than the pages of a loose-leaf. You might have been a little disappointed when we didn’t seem to catch the fire of your enthusiasm for your subject.

But I’m writing to tell you that even without flames, you lit a spark. And you couldn’t see it, but you’ll never know how many of us had a little extra kavanah in tefillah the day you explained u’neshalmah parim sefaseinu; how many small, silent battles were fought and won since you delivered a class on gevurah.

You’ll never know how we watched and we learned, even if we weren’t fully aware, every time you took a deep breath, explained something again, reacted with calm restraint when we could rightfully have expected anger. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 596)

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