We lost a great human and educator this week. I lost a mentor from a critical season of my life. Just hours after penning this letter, Lee passed on. His impact on so many was profound. Here is how I experienced it:
I was a student teacher and you were the savvy vet.
In a year’s time, I would be teaching ninth grade English, in the classrooms and hallways where you impacted students for decades. You did it through love, literature, and teaching strategies. Love always came first for you. Instinctively, you knew what was most important. Sure, your students needed literacy strategies and tools to communicate effectively. They needed to be pushed to think critically and speak articulately. But what they most needed was a caring adult that believed in them and could bring the best out of them.
This is what you did for me too; You helped bring the best out in me.
By the time I met you, you were impacting students through teachers like myself. Your impact was multiplied, as you coached pre-service and veteran teachers towards effective instruction and positive classroom environments. Your coaching helped me feel successful with students. And knowing that you believed in me, helped me step into some risks:
In 2001, I remember asking my wife to videotape me, acting outside a local liquor store, all to simulate a live simulcast interview of book characters for the next day’s lesson. I remember jumping in the middle of hallway fights, and then walking students towards reconciliation. I remember successfully bouncing between two passionate effective guide teachers, who had a healthy disdain for one another. I remember trying a typical elementary strategy, guided reading, at the high school level, because this is the support our struggling readers needed. I remember turning down a more lucrative job with more privileged students, for a chance to make a greater difference with students at our urban school.
As a student teacher, I remember how you made me feel.
Yours was the face that welcomed me into the profession. Yours was the face I sought out after hard days of teaching, where you affirmed my ability to reach students. Your voice was one I sought out, before making a step away from the classroom and toward school leadership.
In the end, you helped affirm my own calling, my life’s work.
Goodbye dear friend.You have left your mark.You live on through your students.You live on through me.
May I, like you, always lead with the heart.
Image courtesy of DePaul UCWbL via Flickr