Heidi Crumrine: I don’t know what to say, but my students do

Monitor columnist
Published: 10/20/2019 6:30:07 AM

Thank you.

To say that it is not easy to be a teacher in Concord right now might be the understatement of the century. There is much anger, confusion, vitriol, heartbreak, and fear. I had anxiety all summer about the return to school, and I know that I am not alone. As we watch everything seem to fall apart with each passing day, it becomes hard to feel optimistic about what it means to teach here and to believe in what we do.

Many people have approached me and wondered how things are going at school. My reply is always the same: “It’s sad; it’s overwhelming; it’s stressful, but we are doing what we do best: teaching and working with students.” As teachers, we are coming together because we know that the students who are in our classrooms today don’t have time for us to fall apart, too. They are here right now and they need us to teach, and they also need us to model how to navigate life when everything is so uncertain.

Recently, my ninth-grade students wrote letters of gratitude to former teachers. I do this every year, but this time it seemed to be more necessary. We mailed them out last week, but when I began to grade them, I was so touched by their thoughtful, specific and kindhearted words of gratitude that I wondered how else I could share them.

Which brought me back to this column. I haven’t written anything since July because I really didn’t know what to say. As so often happens in teaching, however, it turns out I don’t need to say anything; my students can do it for me. I have included excerpts from nine of these letters. I have removed the individual teacher’s names, because in many ways, it doesn’t matter who the teacher is. These letters are for all of us. And if you have any concerns about kids these days, this should assure you that they are thoughtful, wonderful and full of love.

* * *

You made everyone feel like they wanted to learn and be welcomed by everyone. That impacted me a lot because I was new to the school with no friends so I felt isolated. On the first day, you made us focus on each other, to respect each other, to make everyone feel they deserve to be there. You took the time to individually learn about students who were struggling or needed help with things. You taught me to make everyone feel welcome no matter who they are. Ever since that year, I have made sure all my work is done and I cared about learning and paying attention so I can succeed.

* * *

Everytime I walk into my 9th grade geography class I remember the person that believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. I thought of myself as a failure and that I would never be good enough. That was before I was in your class. I have never been a kid that liked talking to people I don’t know. I would always stay silent even when the teacher was talking to me. I have a voice so quiet that when I speak teachers ask me to speak louder, and it makes me want to just back down and hide away in my seat. I never felt like that in your class. I just want to say thank you for always believing in me.

* * *

I was a pretty mean 4th grader. I treated my peers poorly because that was how I was treated. However, you helped me become a better person. You helped me truly realize that I didn’t need to be the mean girl to fit in. Just by being yourself, you inspired me to treat others kindly and that impacted my life. I wouldn’t have the friends I have now if it weren’t for you. You didn’t even have to try. I don’t like getting all mushy and sappy, but thank you for everything you did for me. You were always understanding and kind. You were patient and, between you and me, you have always been my favorite teacher. (Don’t tell anyone).

* * *

I want to thank you so much for creating my love of school. When you were my teacher you made me look forward to school everyday. I know it sounds crazy but I loved school and I continue to have a special love for school, and I honestly owe it to you. If I were to ever go into teaching I would aspire to be the teacher that you are. The words in this letter can’t express how thankful I am that I had the chance to be your student! I hope all your students realize how lucky they are to have an amazing teacher like you. Never stop teaching the way you do.

* * *

I remember when I first met you I was so scared. I didn’t speak English at all. I was very shy and felt weird being around different people in a different country where everything was so different. But meeting you made me feel so much better because you kept on smiling and that just made me feel good. When I started speaking a little bit of English I would ask myself, how? I felt like I had learned English over night and I felt confident speaking it. I don’t really know what you did. Whether it was the smile that inspired and encouraged me to learn more, the fun things we did, or just learning in general, you did an amazing job. I really appreciate you for making a huge difference in my life.

* * *

Before I met you I hated reading and writing. I would always fake read and make it up as I went along. However, it all changed when I went to Broken Ground and got you as my teacher. You somehow figured out how to make spelling and reading not terrible or embarrassing. You would make it enjoyable. You’d circle mistakes and go over them and then drill them into my head. They’re still there by the way. You gave me so much confidence in my reading and helped me achieve goals I never knew I had. I now come to school and look forward to reading and writing when we’re allowed to, which is something no one would have expected. You made me feel special, so thank you.

* * *

To my regret, I never said how grateful I was when I had the chance, but I’m saying it now… Thank you so much. I am so glad I had you as my teacher and mentor, and you made such a huge impact on me that to this day, (and I am not exaggerating for effect), I will sometimes pause to think, “Would Mrs G. be okay with this?” The things you taught me about kindness will stick with me for the rest of my life. I will always remember you.

* * *

You don’t know how much it meant to me when you called me brilliant on the first day of school this year. It made me feel like I could do this, succeed in high school, and it made me feel good after a whole lot of feeling not so good. It gave me a boost that I needed to be strong. So thank you for that. A lot of little things you did meant the world to me. Thank you for making me feel like I was someone in your room, like I was special and smart and good. Thank you for being gentle with me when I was fragile. It felt like you always knew what to say to make me feel better. Thank you for all that you have done for me and all that you do for others.

* * *

You came to school and always taught us how we should be taught. I’d come home from school with so much to tell my mom. I have always had this strange love for school and learning which made me unlike most kids my age. I believe the root of where my love for learning came from you. I was filled with so much contentment after school. I can’t thank you enough for what you have done to impact me. The ultimate reason why I chose to write to you is that I aspire to become a teacher. You are the type of teacher I want to be. I want to be able to build a relationship with the kids, so that they can look back and remember me fondly. So I’m very thankful for you and the kindness you have shown me.

* * *

There isn’t anything else that I need to add that these voices haven’t already said. Except thank you to my colleagues for stepping up and putting our students first, and thank you to our community for supporting us as we navigate our new reality.

And to Olivia, Camille, Justine, Ewan, Haley, Ayoob, Jasmine, Kate, and Serendipity, thank you for letting me use your voices. It is always the students who make teaching worthwhile and who empower us to advocate for them. You are what make all of this worthwhile. Thank you.

(Heidi Crumrine, the 2018 New Hampshire Teacher of the Year, teaches English at Concord High School.)


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