As Teacher Appreciation Week draws to a close, I just want to say thank you to some teachers who have impacted me over the years.
To my kindergarten teacher who didn’t believe I could read and consequently taught me at an early age that the life of a young, gifted, and black female was never going to be a crystal stair.
To my fourth grade teacher who got me through the idea of moving across the country – from New Jersey, where they knew how to make pizza and hoagies to Oklahoma, where I assumed tumbleweeds ruled the dirt roads.
To my fifth grade teachers, all three of them, who helped me understand that in Oklahoma you might have three fifth grade teachers, instead of just one, and for not sugar-coating it when a little boy called me a “nigger,” because they knew although that was the first time I had been called that, it wouldn’t be the last.
To my sixth grade social studies teacher who let me cry when the Challenger exploded.
To my sixth grade band teacher who forced me to correct my embouchure while playing my clarinet. Without that, I may never have started my love affair with my instrument, which proved solace to me throughout my entire high school career.
To my seventh grade English teacher who made reading the Odyssey memorable.
To my eighth grade English teacher who didn’t say a word when I ran out of the classroom, without even asking, because she recognized a feminine wardrobe malfunction when she saw one.
To my ninth grade Oklahoma History teacher who helped me finally appreciate the great state of Oklahoma, by introducing me to how peculiar it is.
To my ninth grade geometry teacher who gave me points for creativity on my proofs, which were otherwise outlandish.
To my ninth and tenth grade English teacher (same teacher both years) who foisted all kinds of odious English things on me. I hated it, all of it, at the time, but look at me now.
To my ninth and tenth grade librarian who helped me explore the world, and ultimately myself, through literature.
To my eleventh grade history teacher who knowingly ignored the daily debates between me and the card-carrying Klan member who sat in front of me in class.
To my eleventh grade chemistry teacher for not losing her cool every time one of the classroom safety protocols had to be enacted because of me. Meanwhile, we learned that the eyewash station and the pull-chain mini shower worked just fine.
To my eleventh and twelfth grade Spanish teacher (same teacher both years) for never learning how to pronounce Roshaunda or sheet and for recognizing the sort of challenges I needed to realize my potential.
To my twelfth grade calculus teacher for allowing an entire class of students to climb out of a window during a storm to watch a wall cloud, with a tornado dropping out of it, approach the school and miraculously turn direction.
To my high school principal for recognizing racism at play and not suspending me for my act of civil disobedience.
To my college freshman composition instructor for introducing me to John Berger’s Ways of Seeing.
To my calculus professor who helped me gain confidence in my own knowledge. That is the only way to get through multiple choice tests that give you choices A-J for each problem.
To my “Exceptional Child” professor in whose class I earned my first and last C. I disliked it, but my character, as well as my resolve, grew.
To my African American literature professors who helped me find myself, finally, in literature.
To my Spanish literature professors who taught me that I could learn to appreciate and write cogently about literature that wasn’t in English and was decidedly not American.
To the African and African American Studies Program office manager who taught me that someone does not have to have the title teacher to sow seeds of wisdom and love into students’ lives.
To my RA supervisor for teaching me that in order for people to trust me I have to allow them to get to know me. I’ve lived that lesson with every student I have had since that time. It has revolutionized my world.
To my last and best co-RA who taught me how to let go and have a little fun.
To my resident who introduced me to the joy that is dancing the night away at an Association of Latin American Students party.
To my Mellon Fellow mentor who let me convince her that Octavia E. Butler should be studied.
To my English professor who told me he didn’t think I’d ever go to graduate school or ever become a professor, just because I didn’t fit his vision of an academic. I learned that academics come in all shapes and sizes and if my shape and size didn’t already exist that I would just have to carve out space for myself.
To all of my professors my senior year of college who somehow managed to help me learn and grow despite being an RA, pledging a sorority, working two jobs, hunting for jobs, taking standardized tests, applying for graduate school, strategically skipping class, taking way too many reading and writing intensive courses at one time (five of them each semester) and getting engaged resulting in my completely zoning out for the last two months of school because I would literally sit in class and stare at my engagement ring marveling at how the light played on the facets of the diamonds and not pay attention at all to my professors droning on about nothing.
To the one and only undergraduate professor who ever told me I should be in graduate school and actually believed I could be a success.
To my “Teaching Composition” professor who believed that teaching composition should be a learned skill, not just something pawned off on green MA students.
To my “Graduate Research Methods” professor who used the MLA manual as a text book. Seriously. It was the text book for our class, and I am a better person for it.
To the director of my MA exams who completely flipped on me during my oral exam by pointedly asking me about everything I told him gave me concerns. Life is difficult, and everyone cannot be trusted. Lesson learned.
To my first dissertation director for teaching me academe is mercurial at best.
To my second dissertation director who taught me about the rigors of my field and how bitterness can dampen your spirit and blight your soul.
To my third dissertation director who taught me how to finish.
To my graduate school mentor, who helped me hold it all together while I was learning some really hard lessons, and who taught me that academics can be kind and good and loving and strong all at the same time and about the beauty that comes from women of color sticking together.
To my brother for teaching me to I can hold my own against a worthy opponent.
To my parents for teaching me to believe in myself.
To my husband for teaching me the beauty of love.
To my children for teaching me something new about the world every single day.
To all of my students for daily proving to me that opportunities to learn surround us.
Thank you all.