To my third-grade teacher: thank you. I don’t know where you are, or if you’re even still teaching. Whatever you’re doing, I hope you are very happy and have many joyful years ahead of you.
I was a quirky kid. I am now a quirky adult. I didn’t often pay attention in class, I hated doing homework, I didn’t always do well on tests, and I wasn’t very social. (In fact, I was downright awkward.) My mind traveled paths that no one else would have even made sense out of, and this is probably because they didn’t make sense.
Everyone else solved their math problems. I drew rocketships. At recess, everyone wanted to play kickball (which I did sometimes), skip rope, or just plain run around. My friends and I imagined we were space explorers on a distant planet, fighting off vicious, monstrous space aliens bent on our destruction. Everyone else was interested in sports. I was interested in robots, monsters, and anything having to do with space. Everyone else listened to you as you spoke to them of the real world. I listened to my muses speak to me of my own universe.
I was a terrible student. You really put up with a lot. And yet, you never discouraged me. You never judged me. You even called me creative. Somehow, I even passed your class.
One day, you gave me a book of science-fiction stories to take home. I read them all. And then, I read them again. And again. And again. I devoured them like a meal that constantly regenerated. I thanked you over and over while everyone else was silently reading their books. Each time, you politely said, “You’re welcome. I’m glad you like them.” My classmates probably thought it was odd (and it definitely was). To others, this book was strange. To me, it was an inexhaustible treasure-trove of pure imagination.
It inspired me. I wrote some of my own stories. And then I wrote some more. And more. And more. Over the years, I created an entire universe inside of my head, complete with characters, backstory, epic events, heroes, villains, ancient technologies, war, peace, joy, sorrow, and redemption. This continues even to this very day. You didn’t just give me a book of fun stories to read. You gave me a spark. You lit a fire. It has burned every waking second since then, and I hope it never goes out.
I’m not sure what you saw in me. I’ve heard stories of teachers telling students to “come back to the real world,” “pay attention,” “get out of your bubble,” “come out of your shell,” “stop entertaining these silly fantasies of yours,” or any other of innumerable ways to silence a world that they simply did not understand (I’m not sure I understand it myself). I don’t know where you got your nearly bottomless patience. I don’t know why you put up with me for as long as you did. Truthfully, I’m curious about why.
But whyever you did it, the result was extraordinary. You didn’t merely teach me or entertain me. You inspired me. I have become a musician, and brought joy to people through my music as well. I now consider it my fundamental language, and I use it to inspire others. And every time I see a student who is like me, I remember you. I remember the patience you showed. I remember how inspiring it was to read those stories. I remember your encouragement to me, and I try to pass that along to my own students. I teach them music that they enjoy, and I see the same light in their eyes that I remember in my own when I discovered I could express my inner world.
So, to my third-grade teacher: thank you. I hope to see you again one day, but even if I don’t, I hope you know the gift you have given me. I hope that you know the joy you have brought. And I hope that you, too, have found a way to express your inner world.