Priceless Merit Pay

Wylie - Richmond, Virginia
Entered on March 25, 2009
Age Group: 50 - 65
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One day I received a letter in my teacher’s mailbox at school. It was from an 8th grade student I had taught years ago. She explained that she was a senior and next year would head to the University of Virginia. She wrote that four years ago when she walked into my class she had already chosen when and how to kill herself. She said none of her family or friends had any idea of her plans. She said she thought I’d like to know that she didn’t commit suicide because of me. She said that after a few months in my class I made her realize that life could be an adventure and she could part of it. I cried as I read this and thought about all of the students other teachers had saved; they will never know because most kids won’t write letters to tell.

Five years ago I had ARDS; it’s a condition caused by an abnormal heart electrical malfunction that triggers the lungs to fill up with body fluids. Most people die. I was unconscious for ten days. When I awoke my hospital room was filled with cards, books, candy, balloons, flowers, and more. One note read: “Most of my teachers seem to care more about those state test scores than us. You teach your subject but you also teach us to live life to the fullest and to be a good person. You keep us up to date on what’s happening in the world and in the school. You are the greatest person in the world, you are my teacher, my supporter, my mentor, and in short, my hero. Get well soon. We have missed you so much. Love, your student Kendall.

One day in the reading lab, I asked students to look up the word “banana” in the dictionary.I walked around the class and saw this one boy flipping around in the b section.

I quietly asked him if he needed help. He said he was looking for a picture of a banana. This 8th-grade student hadn’t learned that within each letter words are alphabetized; I filled that hole in his knowledge.

When I first taught in Edinburgh, Scotland as the only male teacher in a school for girls, my students had lots of preconceived ideas about America and Americans. About 20 students gathered around my desk as I put my briefcase down on it. They wanted me to open it and show them my guns. I told them I didn’t own or like guns. They went to the window to see my expensive sports car. I told them I rode the bus and didn’t have a car. They asked me if I was really an American.

I taught for 29 years, and the only reason I’m not there now is because of my heart condition. Now I write

books I wish had had as a teacher. I’ve left the chalk mines in room A-11 and now my classroom is the world.

Those wonderful moments from my teaching were merit pay for me.