The “Send” button has been pushed on Meg’s last college application. It’s over. She’s done all she can do and now it’s up to the admission’s gods to decide her freshman year fate.
What a relief to have this part of the process over. Soon I hope to write more about the admissions process. I am sorry to say, but it’s a dreadful process. What should be an exciting time in my daughter’s life isn’t. It was a long autumn in our house, filled with many moments of tears and upset. I just don’t remember it being this way when I was a senior in high school. But that was 30 years ago. Apparently Meg’s reaction to this nasty process was quite like that of many of her classmates, at least I get that impression from the other parents and kids to whom I speak.
Meg wants to write a book about it. I think she should. But that’s for another day. Today I want to share with you the very last of the 20 essays she wrote for the applications. The experience she writes about in this essay is such a wonderful contrast to the post I wrote here about what’s wrong with our educational system.
As I read her response to the prompt asking, “Write about someone in your life who had a significant impact on you.” I kept saying, “Yes! Mr. Johnson. Oh thank goodness my daughter had Mr. Johnson for a teacher. “
Meg’s story about how education works doesn’t mention what adults get fixated on, topics such as test scores, student achievement, teacher unions, budgets, policies, blah, blah, blah. No. Her story is a wonderfully simple one. It’s about the impact of one man who cared. Caring. It can’t be taught. Either you have it or you don’t and when a teacher has it, well, for a student, a caring teacher can magic and life altering.
For Meg it was.
This is the story of Meg’s magic, in her words. I am grateful she allowed me to share it with you…
“Up, up, up the ladder I hauled the Adirondack chair onto my house’s flat roof. In a rucksack carelessly slung over my shoulder were a couple of books. I positioned the chair on the edge between the roof and chimney to block the wind and get the best view of the towering oaks that filled the blue sky. I was running, running away to the land of fantasy and happy endings and ideas and adventure. When I opened a book I was never sure what wonders awaited me, but since fifth grade many of my afternoons were spent holed up devouring the written word.
“I hate this.” I slammed down the book against the table. My mother stood behind me looking concerned. “But, reading is fun and exciting!” She responded. Nothing worked. To me reading was a nuisance.
Entering my fifth grade year, I held the belief that books were specifically written to antagonize me and that every author gathered around attempting to craft stories I was forced to read and were abysmal. Books were dull. Shouldn’t I be out on adventures rather than reading about them?
My teacher that 5th grade year was a bespectacled man named Mr. Johnson. He played guitar while we took tests and taught us runes when we read The Hobbit. He oozed adventure. He treated us, though we were ten and eleven, as if we were much older, and I respected him more than any teacher ever before because he understood that it’s a struggle to be passionate and interested. Mr. Johnson believed Accelerated Reader was a sad excuse for encouragement to get kids to read. Instead he had us choose books we wanted to read, and then had us write about the ideas in them and what was beautiful and interesting. He inspired us with ideas. He did not need gimmicks or prizes. I began to see reading not as an instrument of torture but as opportunity to discover what ideas stood to be unearthed, what knowledge lay to be uncovered, what poetry in each line to be heard, and what inspiration to be discovered. Never before had the passion for learning coursed through me as it did in Mr. Johnson’s class. To Mr. Johnson my potential was as boundless as books and words. He entered my writing into contests and encouraged me to join a morning creative writing club. I became thrilled by education, lamenting the end of the year and changing schools and saying goodbye to such a special teacher.
I still visit him and that mad twinkle is still in his eyes. He believes beyond a doubt that I am more than capable of becoming a rocket scientist, no matter what. Mr. Johnson continues to bring light to my confusion, he helps give me direction for the future and never once says something is too difficult or unattainable. We discuss books, switching from Shakespeare to Salinger to Seuss; between us no ideas are too trivial or childish. He never ceases to remind me to write often no matter if it seems foolish or mundane.
Mr. Johnson is my mentor and my friend. And he gave me what just might be the greatest gift anyone could give and that is a love for ideas.”