Last night I posted a diary about an email I received from a former student. It contained the following words:
I hope that you can find it in your heart to forgive me for my silence as you struggled to simply live your life. I am a father now, and I would never want my children to have to suffer cruelty that I know you had to deal with when you were in Conway.
The diary (A Letter and a Response) includes my response to this and the rest of the letter.
I would have been remiss to not look at the incident from a slightly more detached viewpoint as well. Here was a student contacting a professor after a decade or more to try to correct an injustice he had perceived himself committing towards that teacher. How often does that happen?
Crossposted from Teacher’s Lounge
In fact, how often do people contact their former teachers? I remember my high school physics teacher telling us when we graduated that he never wanted to see us again, because the only ex-students he ever saw were losers. Is that true? If it is, why?
After I came out, I contacted many of my former college math teachers because I thought I would like them to know who I was as well as who I had been. But I mostly did that in person. I’m not sure what I would have said in a letter. Maybe I should try to find that, to do some more deep digging and tell my professors how they have participated in the construction of this person here before you.
I did write such a letter…the inklings perhaps of what it should have been…to my Ph. D. adviser/mentor/friend when I asked him to write letters of recommendation for me after I had my surgery. But I fear that, again, this was more about me than about what my teacher meant to me.
My own life has been one of constantly moving on, often severing ties with my previous incarnation in order to establish new ties. I understand that most people’s lives have not been like that. So perhaps the wall I perceive between people and their former teachers is breached more than I perceive.
I’d like to believe that.