By Laura Moore
You set your room up in a U-shaped formation and I was on the long end by the windows.
During a time when most seats, in most classrooms, were in perfect, straight lines, your room was a refuge for me.
By filling your walls with art, rather than skill lists, and turning us toward each other, instead of setting us to stare at one another’s backs, your room bespoken open conversation, interaction, imagination and boundless possibilities.
Your room felt comfortable and engaging, interesting and limitless.
You did as much as you could have done with cinderblock walls tinged a coffee-stain yellow, and your quiet movements in and out of our rows, your creative prompts, your love of journals, your willingness to meet us at the intersection of our individual passion and the larger purpose of our learning not only eased my nerves about entering high school, the big game, the real game, the game we had been practicing for since the day we walked into kindergarten, but it made me feel important. And not overly so, enough to know my surging emotions were the buds of something valuable, enough to know my thoughts--even if they were slightly askew, riddled with tangents, or raw and undeveloped--were worthy of consideration, were worthy of being heard.
I loved your class.
And I loved you.
I loved the way you opened up assignments, the way you cracked open texts and invited us to meander with them, in and out of language.
I loved that I went to school during a time that was unburdened by rigid requirements.
I loved that you always looked for the whole rather than the parts.
I loved that you walked into our room and created a brand new space for us, a space throbbing with life, where we were free to imagine, to wonder, to question, to set our curiosities and our interests in the palm of our hand and pick them apart, spinning them, prodding them, dissecting them--sometimes striking gold and other times dust--but all of the time, feeling courageous, even when the world outside your walls could be cruel, even when peers laughed at us, or dismissed us.
In your room--in your world--risk felt safe.
So much so, that on one of the occasions you asked us to share a poem with the class, I remember choosing the poem “Risks.”
I remember standing there--knobby knees, teased out bangs, braces, and all--holding a poem I plucked straight from the pages of The Edge, the sports motivation book I loved without discretion, and telling the class that “the greatest risk in life is to risk nothing./ The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing…/Chained by his certitude, he is a slave; he has forfeited his freedom./Only the person who risks is truly free.”
As you can tell from the brief excerpt, the poem isn’t profound or literary. It isn’t sculpted with lines that move--expertly--through gaps on the page, or rise and fall with enviable cadence. And in many ways, my cheeks turn pink thinking that I chose it, thinking that I looked beyond Langston Hughes or Maya Angelou--two of my favorite poets during that time--and chose, instead, to read Janet Rand’s words.
But at the same time, that choice seems strangely apropos.
You made risking possible because you never judged our passions. You never discredited words--even when they were cliché--if those words rang inside of us, if they spoke to us, if they moved us to be bigger and better. You created a space where all voices mattered, and you taught us to see wider and deeper and from the corner of our eyes. You were the first teacher to unhook me from guidelines and rules, and encourage me to find my own way. You mentored me, cheered for me, and guided me. You were always there for me during the days I spent in your room both freshman year and senior year, but you were also there on the days in between and the days that followed.
I always revered you, and I still do.
Even now--even though I’m all grown up--I still seek your approval.
I still flush each time you mention my blog posts or comment on my essays.
I still want to make you proud.
No matter how many years slip by, no matter how many times you tell me to call you Diane, you will always be Ms. Haddad in my heart. You will always be that teacher I always wanted to have. You will always be layered in my life of writing, of questioning, of dreaming.
You don’t need a classroom full of kids, files full of curriculum or an arm full of essays to continue being a teacher. You just need to turn around, to look beside you, and to look at your social media feeds to see the lives you’ve touched. You will always be a teacher, and for as long as I live, I will always be your student.