Why I’m Thankful I Got a D

Do you ever have those moments where you feel like you are supposed to write a letter to someone?  Maybe it’s a get well card for someone battling a nasty illness, a hello message for a friend I haven’t seen in ages, or a thank you card for a helpful neighbor.  I get those feelings quite often, but 99% of the time I just ignore them.  Maybe I can’t find the right kind of stationery, or if I could, I know I couldn’t find an address and a stamp.  I make really good excuses, and those really good notes go unwritten.

About a week ago I again had that feeling after reading the editor’s note in Real Simple magazine.  It was about thanking someone for a conversation that changed your life.  I immediately had a person in mind, but I began rationalizing that I would never find a way to contact her.  Well, a few Google searches later I had an e-mail address.  And I went for it…

Hello Mrs. Vaughan,

(I did some searching on Google and came up with this e-mail address. If you are not, in fact, the Mrs. Vaughan that used to teach at the Math & Science high school, please disregard this crazy note!)

This week the letter from the editor in a magazine that I read was about conversations that change your life. The author suggested that you write a letter to someone that influenced you through a conversation. So, here I am….almost 15 years later!

I have no idea if you’ll remember this, but you assigned us a paper to write about a Civil War novel. I hated history, hated the Civil War, and hated that I had to write a paper about something that I hated. : ) I didn’t actually finish the book, wrote the paper anyway, and promptly received a well deserved D.

I remember having to come to your room after school or during a free period to talk to you about it. I don’t actually recall the content of that conversation, but I clearly remember the outcome. You gave me a chance to rewrite it, and I decided to take you up on your offer. I stayed home from school to finish the dreaded book and write a much better second draft. When I received that paper back graded, I got an A. Not an A averaged with the D. Just an A.

Through that conversation, your encouragement, and your willingness to give me a second chance, I began to believe that I could actually write. Writing has actually grown to be something that I love to do….and I can pinpoint this assignment as the turning point for me. So…many years later, thank you.

I am teacher now too! This year I’ll be teaching math and science to 4th grade gifted students, but I’ve also taught 5th grade gifted students and fourth grade inclusion. This is the first summer I’ve had my kids home with me, and I started a blog to chronicle our summer adventures and misadventures. I guess this blog and the positive feedback I’m getting from friends on my writing is what made me think of you. If you’d like to check it out, the address is http://chicaandbubba.wordpress.com.

I hope that you are doing well. Thanks again for a life changing conversation all those years ago.  Tracy

I fired the e-mail off sometime after midnight and promptly forgot about it.  I never actually expected to hear anything back because the website where I found her address was several years old.  Well guess what!?  She wrote me back!

She is retired now and enjoying spending time with her grandchildren.  She said that she connected to many of the things I write about here because of her time with her grandkids.  My favorite thing she wrote was, “Your message did remind me of the power people, and teachers in particular, have to help or hurt.”  So. True.  I’m hoping I’m helping more than hurting with the kids I teach.  Maybe one day I’ll get a crazy random e-mail from one of them reminding me of something I can barely remember.

So how about you?  Do you have anybody you need to thank for a life changing conversation?  Even if that person may never read your letter, I think there’s value in reminding ourselves of the power that our words really have.

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109 thoughts on “Why I’m Thankful I Got a D

  1. I love this post! It reminds me of a teacher I had in elementary school, though I cannot even remember her name. I struggled with reading and writing throughout my elementary years until one year a teacher took the time to find a way to connect with me. She worked with myself and a group of two other students and our parents as the way the other students were learning was just not clicking for us. By the end of high school my creative writing pieces were getting recognition from many different teachers and in one case was used as an example for following classes. To this day I still have a passion for reading and writing and I truly believe I have her to thank for it.
    Though I still struggle with grammar and spelling!

  2. As a grad student studying secondary education, I love this and completely agree. Teachers make a great impact on kids, whether for good or bad! Cheers to you for making someone’s day!

  3. I’ve been on hiatus from my blog for a few days, actually more like weeks now, and as I was about to log in your post caught my eye. What a wonderful story for me to read and what inspiration you gave me! I tend to doubt my writing abilities at times and that sometimes causes me to leave the forum for a while, but reading your post reminded me of some of the wonderful teachers I had through my school days, particularly my English teachers. Thank you for sharing this heartwarming story!!

  4. In college I was enrolled in an independent-studies creative writing class. One day I realized that an assignment was due that day and it had completely slipped my mind. I quickly typed out a cover sheet that said, “THE ANSWER!” Inside I added 7 blank pages, and the final page that said, “THAT is the sound of one hand clapping.” I turned it in.

    When the papers were returned a week or so later, scrawled across my cover page in big red letters was this message: “Mr. Philbrick, I would remind you that in the academic world an “F” is ALSO the sound of one hand clapping…” There was a big reg arrow directing me to the second page. Another arrow and another until on the last page it said, “On the other hand, with this paper you have COMMUNICATED. Therefore your grade is an “A.”

    It was the cheapest “A” I ever earned.

  5. I can just imagine how she appreciated that letter. I used to teach 9th grade science and have received some letters from former students in college. I have sometimes been shocked by who I received letters from because they were students that got poor grades. I think the take home is honesty and integrity are priceless and impactful.

    Now I have to think of who I’d want to write a letter to!

  6. This article is beautiful. Thank you :) Not only do I need to thank people for a life changing conversations but I need to thank people more often in general. I- very sadly- often have troubles
    expressing my gratitude but I am on my way to change – I hope so- and your article really helps putting me on track. In fact, I am starting from this moment and thanking people more…so,THANK YOU for this lovely post <3

  7. Hi,
    Love this and you’ve inspired me as well. As a teacher I (a young one) I never thought to receive a note such as this, but last summer when I returned to my hometown after a misadventure of my own, I ran into a former student (then going into her freshman year of college) and she wrote me a card and mailed it to me thanking me for all my help and encouragement (I had gone to sports games as well and when I moved back talked college with her at our local coffee shop). If I’ve helped her in any small way I will have done what a teacher is meant to do: inspire! Keep up the wonderful work!!
    Sara

  8. English is my second language taught only in schools there is 1 teacher miss daisy my grade 1 teacher in the new school i had just got admitted to she helped me a lot to understand and use the language .. :D

  9. Tracy your post instantly brings back memories of several of my teachers who each had an impact on my life. It’s true what they say a good teacher can make a subject come to life, for me both my English and Art teacher made their classes enjoyable and I think if you enjoy a subject you’re more open to learning. Thanks for sharing and congratulations on becoming freshly pressed.

  10. I believe all students, had been students can resonate with what you wrote. I still remember the teachers that have made indelible mark in my mind and changed me significantly from a mouse to a horse (don’t know if it rhymes)

    Thank you for sharing your thought and congrats for being Freshly Pressed.

    Keep on writing and inspiring.

  11. This was lovely to read and will have touched the heart of many a teacher. I teach too and have many such conversations one to one with my students. Sometimes you know you have got through and others you know for sure that you haven’t! Many times I have no idea of the impact of what I say but keep trying any way I can think of to to get the message across: students generally get the grades they have worked for.

  12. I have had many life change conversations…but maybe I’ll need a entire blog for myself writing about all of tim ;). Good blog and good post!

  13. Wow. This is a really neat post. Good for you sending that letter. I work with middle school kids now (I could not be a teacher again). I am probably not the sweetest, but try to leave them thinking about their choices, just like many of my teachers did for me.

    Glad you are freshly pressed! :)

  14. Thanks for this great post and congrats for being freshly pressed! :)

    By reading your article I remembered a talk I had with a professor from my university lately, which I would assume to be life-changing. I was completely unsure if I’m smart enough to do a PhD in computer science and he encouraged me. He was also the only person at university talking with me about pros/cons when it comes to doing research, choosing a job or being a scientific assistant. It’s like these dialogues came out of nowhere – this is what makes them so surprising and valuable.

    Unfortunately no life-changing dialogues happened to me during my school-time. It’s more like the half of my teachers were persons who couldn’t cope with so many young persons having different opinions (especially opninions that were different from theirs). But the other teachers were very inspiring and supporting persons.

    • Yes, it can be challenging as a teacher to accept so many different opinions and so many different interpretations from so many different directions at once, most of them very passionately convinced that they are right (until they hear the rationales for others’ opinions too). But if teachers and students can manage all to put their defenses aside and realize that though they may not reach one final sterling answer, they are all working together anyway, then they have a formula for living in the world, and a good one. This is how class discussion develops in the best way, when people can restrain themselves from becoming abusive or keep themselves from shutting others’ viewpoints out and can work together (at least some of the most rewarding classes for me–and I like to think for my students too–have turned out this way). One thing to keep in mind is that there’s a long link of tradition of teachers and students in front of you in the classroom, not just one teacher, and a teacher who is too dictatorial may have had one or more bad teachers who were the same way, and may have been equally intimidated by them. It’s all in how we learn not only from our own mistakes but from the mistakes we’ve seen others make as well. Whew! I’m gabby!

  15. It’s wonderful that you reconnected with someone from your past like that – I’ve been tempted to look out school teachers and thank them for their encouragement but I’ve never gotten around to it – not sure if it’s shyness or laziness that is stopping me…maybe both!

  16. That’s wonderful she wrote you back. About a year or so ago I felt the urge to write two similar notes. I sent them as private Facebook messages, since that’s how I found the two people. Neither wrote me back. It was strange. One was a high school english teacher who inspired me to write and the other was an old therapist who I met with over a decade ago. I wanted to tell them both I had “become a writer” and “become a therapist” and I wanted to to thank them for each being there to support me like no other had. Their silence made me realize that even if people inspire us, in the end it is we who are responsibile for the inspiration we take in.

  17. I really, really, REALLY loved this. My freshman year of high school was particular stressful, as I was already taking challenging classes and on top of that missed school from illness during one of the times of the year filled with the most projects and tests (just before winter break). We were doing an in-class project in my English class using iMovie. It was meant to be fun, but when you miss so much class and don’t have an Apple computer at home, it is terrible. I was going to try to make it up but was so stressed I had a breakdown…in my English teacher’s classroom after school. I didn’t mean to at all. She instead gave me an alternate assignment and was very understanding. She always noticed when I was down when no one else did, or if they did, never bothered to care. She continued to be there for me when I got extremely stressed out and needed to talk. I’m forever grateful for her.
    Maybe I need to write a letter of my own…
    Very inspiring. :)

    • Your story was a great reminder for me as a teacher about the positive impact that you can have on a student by making exceptions in the right cases. Thanks for sharing this!

  18. I remember a new history teacher coming to the school in my final year before our big exams. He took an instant liking to me and after a really shoddy piece of coursework was handed in took me to one side and said “if you believed in yourself as much as i do, then your grades will end up a lot higher than you expect!”
    Although he did not let me re do the work every piece I did after that was carefully thought out and precise so as not to disappoint him. A year later when I left school we ended up playing soccer together on a team and he became a good friends until he moved away again 2 years later.
    Thank you for writing this!

  19. This is a great post! I often think about the teachers who affected me both academically and personally. When I become a teacher I hope to inspire kids as much as my teachers did for me.

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  21. I remember my History teacher hating me. I used to think he was one of my favorite teachers until he kept shouting at me and sending me out of the class. Not exaggerating. I was a good student as well.

    • That’s really a shame, and I’m sorry it affected your learning experience. Sometimes, people fail to see who’s really there, and see someone whom they think “stands for” something or someone else. I’ve had such an experience a few times, though most of them weren’t with teachers. Even teachers, though, can make such a mistake; we are all human in that regard. Try to credit it to experience; that’s what I tried to do, as well as to try to figure out just what the dickens I represented to those people, anyway!?!

  22. Something similar happened to me my first year in college. I wrote a report on Dante’s “Inferno”…which skimmed as I was writing the paper. I was assured to get a failing grade. As my professor was returning grades, i recalled the anxiety of him not giving me back my paper. Then he spoke of the one student who truly understood the essence of the writing and was best able to convey it…blah, blah, blah. next thing i know i was in front of the class trying to explain what i did not understand myself. At that moment I would have really LOVED to have received a D as compared to a 98%. Your post just brought back memories… and for that I thank you.

  23. Thank you for this post. As a middle school teacher, grades are not nearly as important as the experience. I do this for those students who I know deep down can do so much better. When we rise to the occasion when given the opportunity, we soar :) Great post. Glad it stuck with you!

  24. Hey there!!

    All the comments read -I loved your post..
    I’d say, I’m really lucky to have read this awesome post and yes – I too loved it:)
    Im gonna follow you, (not just your blogsite- Im already following that) and post a similar letter- A ‘you’re responsible for the turning point in my life’ kinda letter & when I do, Im gonna remember you..
    Have an awesome sunday & an even more amazing week ahead :)

    Cheers,
    Shraddha

  25. Thanks you for your post, as I was reading it I immediately thought about my favorite high school English teacher Mrs. Nancy Dulaney. I wrote a similar letter to her a long long time ago back in 1984 shortly before leaving basic training, thanking her for all her encouragement and wondering what she saw in me that I did not see. I remember one of our last conversations before I graduated high school was on the topic that she knew that I could do anything and to always follow my dreams. In the age of snail mail and traveling from one base to another, I never received a reply so I never knew if she had ever received my letter. I like to think all these years later that she read my words to her thanking for caring and the encouragement and that she had a great big smile on her face and said to herself “Now there is a favorite student of mine that is going to be successful in anything she chooses to do.” I am so glad that your teacher replied not all do, she must have been an awesome teacher. Teachers don’t realize that that is one way that they can let you know that you mattered and had also touched their lives instead of just being another face in the sea of faces they see each year.

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  28. I definitely relate to this post. When I was sending out applications for graduate school, I asked one of my professors if he could write a letter of recommendation. Initially he agreed, but reneged when he found out what university I was applying for. He indirectly told me that he felt that school wasn’t a good fit for me. After doing some investigating, I found out he went to the same graduate school. My guess is he didn’t want me to go to the same graduate school as him.

    After several fiery email exchanges he apologized and wrote the letter of recommendation. Two years later, I graduated with a M.A.

    He made earning my Master’s all the more thrilling.

  29. Mrs. Neely, my second grade teacher. She told me she loved the dress I was wearing…that it was her very favourite…every time I wore it…which was everyday because it was my only dress. Thank you, Mrs. Neely.

  30. I’ve been in touch with my 2nd grade teacher recently and told her how much she impacted me and modeled such positive attitude. My love of reading was definitely enhanced because of her.

  31. Thanks for sharing this. You mentioned that you teach gifted children. Where do you teach? I also teacher. Before I got into teaching, I wanted to be involved with gifted children. That is why I am asking.

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  33. Amazing! I had a teacher in elementary school tell me I couldn’t try out for the school musical because she already knew who she wanted to cast. Dejected, I tried out for the big solo in my church musical. That was the beginning of eight years doing theatre that brought me out of my shell as a teenager and gave me the confidence I needed to get by in life.

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