Dear Mr. Prest,
I don’t quite know where to begin. It’s been almost 12 years since I left the halls of high school. Many times over those years, I’ve felt it on my heart to write to you to thank you for everything you poured into me as one the countless students you taught over several decades.
As I’ve grown older, I have begun to realize a few things about myself. I’ve learned that I’m really great at accomplishing mediocre work—or perhaps, even above average—in many settings, but I have discovered that I only excel when I am challenged. Sometimes that challenge comes from an outside force, and sometimes it is within me. When I think about the greatest teachers I’ve ever had, a common thread emerges—they not only cared deeply about me as one of their students, but they also challenged me greatly with difficult work.
I smile as I recall the infamous 500-word weekly essays that you assigned to us in 8th grade. Sitting in that basement classroom behind the gymnasium, thirty students waited with dread for the weekly topic. Without fail, it came. You were not moved by our grumbling or complaints. We were expected to craft something interesting, coherent, and grammatically correct. We would know how well we succeeded in this feat by the amount of red pen on the page when the essays were returned to us the following week. Through this, you taught us that we wouldn’t get better at something without habitual practice.
Thank you–for the challenge, for the red pen, for the consistency.
I also distinctly remember your calling each of us by our last names when you greeted us. “Hello, Miss Pier. How are you today, Miss Pier?” Somehow, you taught 8th grade boys to be gentlemen and expected the girls to behave as ladies. (Thirteen-year-olds!) We students may have seen those things as “old-fashioned” at the time, but looking back, I can see that while you commanded respect from your students, you simultaneously showed it toward young 13-year-old students who thought we had the world figured out. I’ve never had another teacher whom I felt that level of respect from.
Thank you–for teaching us respect by showing us respect.
There were many more things that you taught me and many fond memories I have of your classes in 8th and 11th grades. I learned about English grammar in depth (though, I do hope that when you retired, your red pen did as well, as I am confident that I’m breaking a few rules!).
But your classes were not just rote memorization and grammar exercises. You took time to break from instruction from time to time, and I remember many of the interesting life stories you shared with us. Ingrained forever in my memory is the story of the one time you disrespected your mother as a teenager, and your father proceeded to clear all the furniture out of the middle of the room so he had space to literally fight you. That was the first and last time you spoke like that to your mother!
A couple of years ago, I came across some essays from Advanced Grammar in 11th grade as I was cleaning out some of my things from my mom’s attic. In typical Mr. Prest style, they were all folded in half lengthwise with the grade and comments written on the back in that familiar boxy handwriting. The comment on one of them has echoed in my head since I read it that day. You said I did an excellent job. “Keep writing,” you said.
I have kept writing, Mr. Prest.
So thank you. A deep, sincere thank you–not just for how well you taught me the subject matter, but for all that you taught me about life, for the respect and hard work and sacrifice that you not only expected from your students, but that you also demonstrated day after day, year after year.
Your quiet sacrifices have made a difference in the life of at least one.
Who is your Mr. Prest–that teacher you’ll always remember? What were some of the things that made your favorite teachers so incredible? We’ve all had them–I’d love to hear about yours! Join the conversation below.
I shared this on Twelveskip Link Party.