Best of the Rest

I am having the hardest time writing a good-bye letter right now…

My department chair is retiring, and I want to tell her just what an influence she has had on my life.  I’ve been at my current school for just two years, so this should be a cinch, right?  But she was was also my department chair seven years ago, when I began teaching at this school for the first time, and she supplied me with wit, wisdom, books, advice, scotch tape, hugs, and a million other things that led me to believe I *could* actually survive as a teacher.

More importantly, she was also MY teacher.  In 8th, 9th, 10th, and 12th grade.  Um, yes…that is 4, for those counting.  For Honors and AP English–and I kicked the butt off of the AP test, just for (bragging rights and college credit, and because she threatened me.  I think.) her.  She shared her books then, as well.  As only a teacher can, she knew things (vulnerabilities and fears) about me that I tried to hide…and she gave me amazing pieces of literature to help me figure out my weird teen-hormone-addled brain. She also was generous enough to give me wit, wisdom, advice, and (with an unreasonable frequency) sheer hell when she needed to.

The only teacher I ever truly cursed out:  this lady.  My curse?  Whatever.” (Spoken in withering tones, with the disdain that only a GENUINELY wronged 15 year old can muster.)  After years in class together, I knew her Achilles heel, and I went for it.  I also studied mythology with her, so….frankly…it’s her own damn fault for teaching me about Achilles and his heel.  Thankfully, I survived.

She was my Yearbook Adviser, and I showed up to many an early class (Journalism was a “zero” period class then, meaning 6:45 am) bleary-eyed, to find that she had been at work for hours.  She usually had breakfast for us.  It is the rare day that I muster up the energy to hit my desk at 6:45, and my kids are SOL if they think I’m bringing biscuits and juice.

I would not be a Harry Potter addict without this person, which would have prevented J.K. Rowling from owning Great Britain, and that would be a crying shame.  I am not exaggerating.  At ALL.  Did I mention that she had the stones to dress as Professor McGonagall during Homecoming week?  And that I was scared (when I was 27?!) that my Transfiguration grade was not what it should be?

Though her desk was a potential avalanche of papers, she always knew what you had written, and whether or not it was worth the college-rule on which you had penned it.  Her room was a mish-mash of bookshelves, upon which rested a Library-of-Congress-worthy collection of stuff.  I (may have) modeled my own classroom on this accessible path to reading.

When I became a teacher, at the tender age of 22, I was assigned Room 104 at my former high school.  I was not an education major, I was an English major who was seeking a job that did not require tiny orange shorts and an owl-themed tank top.  I was lost.  The classroom looked so BIG and EMPTY, and I felt completely overwhelmed.  Then I noticed a name, in black Sharpie, written on the thin strip of cork above the white-board.  My name.  And I knew that I was at home, in my former English class.   Unbelievably, I became a teacher…with an avalanche of papers sliding about on my desktop.

I admire my mentor’s literary brain, her way with words, the fact that she maintains herself with dignity when all others are dropping F-bombs far and wide…

I never knew how much I would miss her quiet, unfailing strength and powerful nature, since I never thought we, as a school, as a world of learners, would ever lose her.

But she is retiring:  to spend time with her beloved husband, amazing children, and ridiculously adorable grandchildren, and (I hope) a huge pile of unread books.  Preferably a stack that she will share with me.  I can wish her only the greatest happiness.  Even though she is LEAVING ME!

What do you give a person such as this, upon her retirement?  Gold, jewels, stacks of cash?   Sure.  When I win the lottery.

Sadly, in my case, it is the first edition, 1958 version of 101 Famous Poems with a Prose Supplement.  Straight from the Library of Congress…that I borrowed from my mentor about 15 years ago, and forgot to return.  Due to my embarrassment at (accidentally!) snatching it in the first place, I failed to return it, but I’ve carefully moved it from home to home…and used it to obtain two degrees, all while promising myself to bring it to its true home again.

Tomorrow, it will be reunited with its rightful owner.  I will miss her so much.

UPDATE:  Upon receipt of the book, she cracked up…then insisted I keep it, and pass it along to another student!  🙂

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3 Comments

  1. srmencken said,

    24/05/2010 at 11:10 pm

    They don’t make ’em like her anymore. That school won’t be the same…

  2. Matt Crumley said,

    28/05/2010 at 7:50 pm

    Mrs. Best was my all time favorite teacher as well. My little brother James Crumley also loved her. I’ll never forget her finding out I read Robert Jordan and then turning the tables on me by declaring how hooked she was on his work. With a quick quiet wit she could make the smartest one in class feel the dumbest or with genuine praise make the dumbest feel like the smartest. I hate she won’t be there for my daughter and son to learn from, but I guess everyone has to retire eventually.

  3. Lindsay said,

    30/05/2010 at 3:22 pm

    I hope you also send her a copy of this post. 🙂


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