May 17, 1995… it’s a day I will never forget. That’s the day my mom and dad separated. They had been married for 12 years, 11 months, and 5 days. I was almost 10 years old. The divorce was finalized a little over a year later. It was not pretty. Nothing about the divorce was pleasant. Nothing was amicable. I love both my mom and my dad so very much, but it was hell growing up with them despising each other. They are polar opposites in almost every way and sometimes I wonder how in the world they made it as long as they did. My house was full of fighting as I grew up. There are so many stories I could share, and so many stories in which I don’t know the full story, and even more stories that I have done everything I can to push completely out of my mind. I won’t share any specifics from that time period because one day my daughters may read this and I want them to always know their grandparents as they are now.
When my mom remarried a couple years after the divorce, I think I remember being excited. I was her “maid of honor” and I remember wearing a burgundy lace dress. My mom looked stunning and oh-so-happy. Not long before I left for college, my mom and stepdad got into a fight. I stepped in to protect my mom and he pushed me hard enough that I went through a wall. When they separated and I testified in court against him, he swore up and down that he never put a hand on me. Their divorce was finalized soon after. He still works in a neighboring town. Seeing him makes my skin crawl. I try not to “hate” others, but I certainly still harbor ill will toward him. I know that forgiveness would likely free me from this pit in my stomach when I see or think of him, but that forgiveness for an act from 16 years ago is not coming easily.
Stories like these, and so many more, were what I recalled when I read Teach Me, Teacher by Jacob Chastain. Reading Jacob’s stories brought back suppressed memories of my childhood. I would read a page or two and have to stop reading while I confronted some of those memories head on. Some of the memories I tried to shove back where they came from, locking them away and hoping to never remember them again. There is nothing quite like the guilt of loving both parents and feeling like you’re letting one down because you show the other love.
Both of my parents have their own version of the truth about various incidents and I will never know which pieces of both stories are the actual truth. Because they see it through different lenses, both versions are skewed (although both would say that their version is the gospel truth, and to them, it is). Even to this day, I struggle when both of my parents are in the same room (or even the same town). My younger brother (he’s nearly 30 now) handles this much better than I do. I wish I could be more like him. I have a family picture of the four of us from the early-mid 90s. The only other picture I have with both of my parents and my younger brother was from my brother’s wedding 3 years ago. Imagine that… I waited 20 years to have that picture. I cherish it.
Like Jacob, I learned a lot of life lessons that taught me to be a better teacher. In fact, they taught me to be a better person. I’m more empathetic. Like Jacob, I dove into books. My preference, however, was realistic fiction because I could imagine myself living the lives of the characters in the book rather than my own. Jacob’s story is so powerful. The way he transfers the lessons he learned from his own horrible experiences into our roles as educators is exceptional. His vulnerability touches my heart. He speaks about being the ‘camera’ in our classrooms, picking up on the subtleties that other might miss. I have watched my own home videos and they hurt so bad to watch. I can hear the spiteful murmurs in the background that I overlooked at a child. I understand the inflection in my parents’ voices as an adult that I never picked up on as a child. The camera picks it all up, and remembers the good and the bad for you. Jacob nailed that chapter!
Also like Jacob, I choose to move forward, using the lessons from my own past as an asset rather than viewing them as an obstacle, a series of never-ending hurdles that I continue to try to jump. As I read Jacob’s book, I thought about those teachers who were there for me in ways I never realized until I became a teacher myself. The times they went above and beyond for me. Some things were simple, like my 2nd grade teacher allowing me to hold the class bunny (a stuffed toy) much longer than any other child got to hold it because I needed that security. Some things were more pointed, the teachers who pushed me and never allowed my story to become my crutch.
I’m insanely excited about my plan for implementing #TeachMeTeacher by @jacobchastain_! Had to do a bit of research & get my hands on copies of old yearbooks from every yr (K-12). Now, I’m ready! #DBCBookBlogs post coming very soon!#tlap #LeadLAP #DBCincBooks #EduEyeExam pic.twitter.com/M0Hna56ThH
— Alicia Ray (@iluveducating) August 10, 2019
As the implementation of this book, I am creating a personalized thank you card for every teacher I had in my own K-12 education journey. I will be giving these to each of my former teachers very soon. Each card is similar in that it has the teacher’s yearbook photo, as well as mine, from the year they taught me (or the year that stands out to me most if I had them multiple years). Then I share a memory, something they taught me, and/or a special connection we made during my time in their class. Most importantly, I say thank you and that I love them. But shhh, I don’t want them to know about their surprise just yet (I doubt they read my blog, haha). To my knowledge, only one of my former teachers has passed away, so I will share her card with you here.
I am so grateful for each of my teachers who took the time to show me love and believed in me. I am grateful to Jacob for writing this incredible book, which ripped off an old band-aid that I didn’t even realize was still there. In many ways, ripping off that band-aid allows me to truly begin the long, long process of healing. The most beautiful thing about this book is the hope that it gives the readers. In many cases, we don’t know what our students are going through… Jacob’s first person account of his childhood, what very well might be happening in any one (likely more) of my students’ homes tonight, breaks my heart, but knowing that I can be one of the teachers who lifts them up tomorrow and shows them they are more than their circumstances brings about a greater sense of purpose.
Please do yourself and your students (especially those who are like Jacob and me) a favor and get a copy of Jacob’s book, Teach Me Teacher (free preview at the bottom of this page). I believe it will inspire some deep emotions and powerful reflections in every person that reads it. It will bring about compassion, a bit more understanding, and a boatload of empathy to readers everywhere.
And Jacob, you’ve got a big hug coming when I get to meet you one of these days! Thank you for being so raw, open, and honest. I cannot fathom how hard it was to write these stories in such detail, reliving them again and again throughout the entire process, to allow us to learn from you. Thank you.