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5th-Oct-2009 12:39 pm
I found my 3rd grade and favorite teacher, Miss Shore, this morning on Facebook. I sent her a friends request and the following letter. I'm posting here the edited version because I felt it important to share but edited the original for my own personal reasons. Anyway, here it is:

My Dearest Miss Shore,

My name is Brad Smith. I was a student in your 3rd grade class in 1979 at James B. Key Elementary. I was a precocious but rather introverted child. At one point there was a discussion between my parents and the school principal, Mr. Clinkscales, about the possibility of me skipping the 3rd grade and going directly from 2nd to 4th – and I am so grateful that it never happened. Had I not experienced that year in your class, I would doubtlessly be quite a radically different man than the one writing this letter now. I would be lacking the values of self worth and importance that were just two of your gifts to all of your students. You are precious to me beyond all measure, and my self esteem demanded that I write this letter. In part as gratitude, in part as testimonial for everything I felt (and still feel) that you represent, and completely with love, respect, and admiration.

As a child I was subject to things that no child should ever endure, things that inspire horror and nightmares in the loving parents of all children. As a result, I became quiet, timid, and depressed. I was afraid of speaking aloud to people. I was completely uncomfortable as the center of attention. I was worthless and insignificant. I was starving for affection to clean out all of the dirt I carried inside.

One of the first times I recall discovering that you were the extraordinary, magical being I would grow to love was when the class had its first art project. My father worked for the Mead Coated Board company and brought to the school one morning a huge roll of poster board. You thanked him for it and hugged me on the spot. You told us all how gifted and creative we were. If we messed up something, you cut more poster board off of the roll and helped us to start over. We were all artists, we were all geniuses and the things we drew and painted were the most beautiful things you had ever seen – or so you made us believe. You encouraged my love of art and my ability to paint and to draw, which I still do to this day.

When you taught us our multiplication tables we had to stand beside our desks and recite them to you aloud. When it was my turn I got frustrated and scared and began to cry. I couldn’t get them out and I had no voice to speak with from stage fright. You took me out into the hallway and calmed me by holding me for a moment. I told you that I didn’t know any of the answers and you told me that was nonsense, that I just forgot them for a moment and would remember them if I just tried again, that it wasn’t a big deal unless I didn’t try. We went back into class and I got them all right on my first try. You winked at me that “See? I told you so!” wink and I was relieved and proud. You are the reason why I was able to talk to hundreds of thousands of people every day on the radio with no fear when I was a radio producer. You are why I can calm the crying and the fear away from the children in my life that I love and adore so much.

I read my nieces and nephews my favorite books from childhood, the books that began my love affair with reading and the book that I still read now and then because of the love you gave me in reading it to my class. I read at least a novel a week because of that first book you made me fall rapturously in love with. It was Charlotte’s Web and I still have the same copy that my mother bought for me back in my 3rd grade school year. I only just got a brand new copy of Where The Wild Things Are to replace the ones I've worn out over the years! You made me love stories and writing and I am now a published author currently working on my first writing projects in many years.

One of your students was chosen each week to spend that week in the highly decorated and much coveted bath tub that sat in the classroom, stuffed with pillows and painted gold. We each got a turn and it was such a special thing for the one who left his or her desk vacant for the bath tub. I remember that you had broken your leg in a skiing accident when it was my turn, and as luck would have it I came down with the chicken pox that very week. I was so upset at the prospect of missing my turn that I was devastated. This did nothing for my feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy! When I came back to school you let me have that week as my turn. Oh, I was so elated! I got to have my week in the tub just like everyone else! It marked the first time I can recall anyone ever making me feel that special, that authentic, that important. I might as well have worn a crown as Max does in Sendak's masterpiece.

I am a grown man now, turning 39 years old in December as a matter of fact. I have a busy life filled with lots of love and responsibilities, with family and friends and children, and with a better sense of self than most people I know. I do my best to help anyone who I feel is in need if I can. I try to encourage the best in others. I try to give my love freely and honestly as much as possible. Every success I have, YOU are a part of. Every good thing I share with others, I share because YOU taught me how. I felt compelled to write this because I couldn’t live another day without telling you what you have done for me, and why I will always love you for it. You gave me so very much that you never even knew, and I am giving it back to you and the world each day. Soon I move across country with the love of my life to begin our next chapter together, and I will be saying goodbye to the only home I have ever known. I couldn't do that without doing this first. In the desert, I will continue my writing and my photography and my artwork, and your heartprints will be on all of that as well. You deserve to know that and it gives me unparalleled joy to tell you.

I just adore you, Miss Shore. I always have. I tell everyone I know about Wild Things and talking spiders and bejeweled bathtubs that make a simple day of learning a voyage of purest discovery. I thank you from the center of my soul for helping to raise that small, fragile boy into a strong, loving man. I cannot thank you enough for everything, but it would mean more than you will ever know to be able to see you and hug you in person before I leave my beloved Georgia. I hope to hear from you very soon, and I hope this finds you well and in good health and high spirits.

With all my love, hugs, energy, and light,
Brad Smith
5th-Oct-2009 04:55 pm (UTC)
You are eleventy-seven kinds of awesome.
Thank you for sharing this.
5th-Oct-2009 06:52 pm (UTC)
Thank you for reading it!
5th-Oct-2009 05:12 pm (UTC)
The reason I wanted to be a teacher is this, right here. To be able to touch someone so deeply is all kinds of awesome. :)
5th-Oct-2009 06:52 pm (UTC)
I hope she feels the same - this was my best gold star for her.
5th-Oct-2009 05:19 pm (UTC)
Mother of God, I'm CRYING.

Please, please, please keep us posted.
5th-Oct-2009 06:53 pm (UTC)
Yeah, but you're a big sap like that - it's part of why I love you and why we get on so well. ;-)
5th-Oct-2009 05:31 pm (UTC)
Here via docjeff and bawling my eyes out.

I know your teacher will treasure this letter beyond all measure.

5th-Oct-2009 06:53 pm (UTC)
Thank you for taking the time to read it!
5th-Oct-2009 05:34 pm (UTC)

If elementary school teachers did today what mine did to me in 1960-65, you'd see on the evening news a parade of nuns in black-and-white habits doing a perpwalk as half or more of a convent was charged with felony child abuse.

Regardless of anything else in your young life (and I perceive there were some awful things there, just as there were some in mine), you were extraordinarily fortunate to have this teacher, and you're to be commended for letting her know the magnitude of the good she did you.

By all means, continue to pay it forward. I knew you were a star before, but you shine like a nova today.

5th-Oct-2009 06:54 pm (UTC)
Yet another reason I'm glad I'm a lifelong atheist.

I concur fully - she really did have a dramatic investment in who I was and who I now am.

Thanks, love!
5th-Oct-2009 06:01 pm (UTC)
MY God.... how beautiful... I am so glad you had such a wonderful teacher, and that you are able to tell her so many years later what an impact she had on you. I'm sure it will touch her as much as she touched you.
5th-Oct-2009 06:55 pm (UTC)
Me too - and thanks for taking the time!
5th-Oct-2009 06:03 pm (UTC)
I came here via davidkevin, and I'm so glad I did. What a beautiful, magical story. Thank you.
5th-Oct-2009 06:56 pm (UTC)
Welcome, and thank you for taking the time to read!
5th-Oct-2009 06:41 pm (UTC) - Oh yeah!
Wow....I love those folks in our lives who have left such giant positive impressions on our hearts and in our minds. Hopefully, it will block out all of the negative destruction-filled ones. Thanks so much for reminding us all of us of the good folks in our pasts.

A. Lewis
5th-Oct-2009 06:58 pm (UTC) - Re: Oh yeah!
I needed her to know this. I've done this kind of thing before with others, but she has a particularly special place in my life. Thank you so much or reading, sweetness - did you hear that I'm moving to Arizona?
5th-Oct-2009 06:53 pm (UTC)
Your description of her reminds me of my third grade teacher at Prisk Elementary in Long Beach. I started the year in the lower reading group and finished in the top. I didn't think anything of it until we moved to TX at the beginning of my 5th grade year and I tested at a high school junior reading level.
5th-Oct-2009 06:59 pm (UTC)
There's so much of her in so much of what I do and who I am, I discover that more and more as I grow older - and it's pretty amazing to say the least. She deserves nothing less from me than the best possible thing I can offer as gratitude.
5th-Oct-2009 07:05 pm (UTC)
This is a beautiful, beautiful thing.
17th-Oct-2009 02:23 am (UTC)
Thanks, love!
5th-Oct-2009 07:06 pm (UTC) - That is utterly beautiful.
I hope that she does friend you back. I wish I had a teacher like that growing up. It would have been marvelous.

BTW.. I didn't know you did radio. Cool.
5th-Oct-2009 09:16 pm (UTC) - Re: That is utterly beautiful.
She did, responded quickly to let me know she'd read it, and said she would write more tomorrow. I just updated with her initial response.
5th-Oct-2009 08:14 pm (UTC)
Mine wasn't NEARLY this long, but several years ago, my high school English teacher was dying of a terminal illness. I sent her a card that thankfully, she received shortly before she died, thanking her for treating all us kids equally (believe me, there were plenty of teachers in that school who didn't) and giving me the idea to become a writer.

If I were a teacher, I would imagine it's things like this I would look forward to. This was really cool.
5th-Oct-2009 09:16 pm (UTC)
Go read my last update, she replied...
5th-Oct-2009 08:40 pm (UTC)
Oh it's so beautiful! And so touching!

She seems to be made of awesome. :)

5th-Oct-2009 09:17 pm (UTC)
Oh, she certainly is. I still remember the tone in her voice as she read to me, and can hear her in my head 30 years later like it was yesterday.
5th-Oct-2009 10:58 pm (UTC)
This is like 10 miles beyond awesome.
6th-Oct-2009 11:11 am (UTC)
Thanks, love!
6th-Oct-2009 02:01 am (UTC)
I think there is only one thing better than to have someone profoundly affect their life in such a positive way (and at such an impressionable age), and that is to let that person know just how much of an impact they had. I read your later post with her response, and it was wonderful. Even a good teacher will spend her career molding minds and shaping students for their place in the everyday world wondering what sort of effect they really have. Most students, once out of school (or even out of that particular grade) will lose touch with their teachers. To have it come back so many years later like this only amplifies the gratitude. You not only made her day, but you affirmed her feelings that it was all worth it.

Good show.
6th-Oct-2009 11:13 am (UTC)
That is what I hoped for - that if ever in her entire career there were a moment of doubt as to her choice of profession, that I could be the smashing hammer to obliterate it. Thanks Phil, I appreciate it!
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