In honor of teacher appreciation week, a long overdue letter:
Dear Mrs. Hamilton,
I write to you nearly 30 three years after sitting in your eighth grade English class at Emerson School. You likely have long since retired, and may not even remember me, but I remember you. In fact, right now I am looking at a book that you gave me in 1978. I keep this book on my desk and use it frequently because it reminds me of another even more important gift you gave me.
In the spring of 1978 you encouraged me to submit an essay in a school writing contest. The topic was "Libraries: For the People, by the People." At the time I wasn't very confident with the pen and a bit insecure about entering the competition. For some unknown reason you had faith in me and urged me to give it a go. I remember you telling me that writing was a skill which requires patience and practice, just like sports. But, while a basketball game ends and fades from memory, writing remains forever.
So I put down the basketball and picked up a pen and wrote the best essay I could, re-writing it several times. By some miracle I actually won that contest. I can't even remember what the prize was, but I do remember your beaming face when you came to share the news. To celebrate my success you gave me my first ever thesaurus. Honestly, I didn't even know what a thesaurus was at the time... which is why your inscription on the inside cover makes me smile to this day.
You wrote, "This thesaurus is not a prehistoric animal, but I hope it is a faithful companion during the next four years (in high school)."
I want you to know that this book, now worn with pages falling out, has remained my faithful companion for over three decades. I wouldn't dream of using any other thesaurus, online of offline, because yours is so special -- even magical. When I open it up I see you standing over my shoulder, pointing out how words fit together and how powerful they can become when infused with passion and purpose. I feel a renewed sense of wonder and curiosity just by turning the pages of that old book.
Well, despite your best efforts, I have to let you know that I never became a professional writer. As glorious as it was my essay victory did not propel me to a spot on the New York Times bestseller list. (I did meet Stephen King, himself a former English teacher, a couple of times however!).
But I still love to write, mostly just for writing's sake. I love the interplay of words and meaning, in fact, much more than I will ever love basketball.
I want to also let you know that I will do my best to teach an appreciation for writing to my own children, and I will be sure to encourage them the way that you encouraged me. I am not a teacher but thanks to you I know what good teaching is.
Thank you for the book and for making me feel so special. Thank you for caring enough to teach me why to write and not just how to write.
As much as I treasure it, even my thesaurus doesn't have enough words to describe my gratitude.
Paul Lamb (the gangly blue-eyed kid with wild hair in the front row to your right)
If you or your children want to show appreciation for important teachers you know during Teacher Appreciation Week (May 2-6) check out the following resources: