The truest answer to this question would be my mother, since she was a teacher for a while and was actually a substitute teacher in my class a handful of times. She obviously had a profound impact on my life since she, you know, raised me and everything.
Setting aside that evident choice, I would have to say that Miss Frey, my 7th grade teacher, has had the biggest impact on me.
7th grade was a disastrous year for me. We had just moved to Atlanta from Cincinnati. We had been ripped from a life that we were comfortable with and from everyone we knew and loved. All of the relationships we had forged for the past 7 years were gone in the blink of an eye. My mother and I had the hardest time with it, and we both had to wage battles with depression. We both went to see a psychiatrist regularly and both began taking antidepressants.
Mine worked wonderfully. I didn’t have a care in the world. Nothing bothered me. They worked so well in fact, that I always wanted to go to school, even when I was sick. That, quite simply, is a miracle considering I spent most of my days trying to play hookey and invent new excuses to miss a day of school.
My mother, however, had an adverse reaction to the medication. While she was substitute teaching at my school. She suffered a mental breakdown and two things happened. The first, she wrote a love letter to a 6th grade student. Secondly, that student accused her of grabbing his butt.
She absolutely wrote the letter, but doesn’t remember doing it. She didn’t touch that child, and there was a whole room full of kids to testify to that, but the letter she wrote condemned her. She was arrested and ultimately placed in a mental hospital.
Not only was I having to deal with the drama of my mother having a nervous breakdown, but the entire school knew about it. Other kids knew what happened. It was in the news. I was picked on and bullied because of it. One day a teacher stopped me just short of landing a haymaker against some kid’s jaw. These were bad times. I would find out later from my psychiatrist that he’d come awfully damn close to putting me in the same hospital as my mother.
Miss Frey was awesome. She was my rock. She knew about what happened and went the extra mile for me to keep me focused in school and formed a group of students in our class to be my support group. She pulled me aside often to see how I was doing and to see if I needed anything or any extra help. To this day I still have a motivational card she gave to me with a hand written note telling me how capable I was, how smart I am, and to persevere and not let things get me down.
No other teacher had ever taken that much of an interest in me, although a couple in high school did a good job, and she kept me on the right path during those trying times when it would have been oh-so-easy to just say “fuck it” and give up. She went the extra mile for me and gave me a new outlook on teachers. Never had a teacher cared for me the way Miss Frey did. I began to see teachers differently. I was willing to ask teachers for help henceforth. I listened to their guidance a little more closely. I realized that they had more to offer than dull lectures and throwing chalkboard erasers around. I realized that they were there to help me in addition to teaching me. I realized that they were human, too.
I don’t know what happened to Miss Frey as we moved from Atlanta a year later, but I’m sure wherever she is she is still teaching – she was quite young at the time – and she is still doing her best to ensure her students have the support they need and get the education that they deserve. If all teachers were like Miss Frey this country would be a much better place.
Miss Frey, wherever you are, thank you for everything you did and for being so absolutely awesome.