{Dear Mr. Prest} A Tribute to Great Teachers


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. 

 For anyone who has ever had a truly great teacher, and for all the teachers out there--thank you! #teacher #education #school

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.

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  • I think there aren’t enough teachers in the world like your Mr. Prest. I was lucky to be influenced by several great teachers and even luckier to be able to share with them how they impacted my growth. Your post actually inspired me to dig up a draft blog I had started about a truly horrible teacher who called me a quitter and tried to humiliate me in front of my peers. His actions motivated me to follow my dreams for myself and focus on what important to me rather than spread myself too thin.

  • So true, Rachel. I have had a lot of great teachers as well, but there are a handful that just stand out in my mind as being really exceptional. Unfortunately, I’ve had a few that either didn’t push me very hard or that didn’t seem to care about me as one of their students, but they weren’t the majority. I’m so glad this post inspired you to dig that up. And though it was a terrible experience that you had happen (I can’t imagine!), it’s great when you can see the positive things that come out of it.

  • Amy Coelho

    I definitely agree with Rachel that there are not enough teachers in the world like Mr. Prest. Great post!

  • Mr. Prest sounds like one amazing teacher! I wish I could say I had an amazing teacher like that. It’s pretty sad that none of my teachers stand out after all these years.

  • He really was. A lot of times I’ve taken things and people for granted (or just assumed what I had was normal for everyone), but growing older I’ve realized that not everyone had such wonderful teachers…But hopefully you had some strong people in other areas of your life to help teach you along the way. 🙂 Everyone’s story is different, and I always love to hear how people have grown and learned certain things in their lives.

  • Agreed, Amy! So glad you enjoyed the post!
    I’m so thankful that I had some really great ones along the way, and I think many of them probably need loads of encouragement for all the challenges they face. Hopefully this post will bring a little lift and encouragement to some teacher friends out there. 🙂

  • Pingback: What I’m Learning {March 2014} » Naomi Liz Figueroa()

  • Katie McEnaney

    What a lovely tribute! I hope you tracked him down and sent it; any teacher would be honored. (Seen on Saturday Sharefest.)

  • Thank you, Katie! Indeed, I did. It turned out to be a strange twist of events, too, and reminded me of what a small world we live in!

    I had remembered that he moved to another state when he retired. I found an address there for him and sent it last week. When I shared this post, someone told me that he had moved back to Maine AND was teaching again (that man never stops and I’m pretty sure he never sleeps). When I looked up the school, I saw that the principal there was a woman whom I had grown up knowing from church in a tiny little town in rural Maine. Crazy, right? When my mom also shared my post on Facebook, it turns out that this woman (the principal) is a Facebook friend of hers. She loved it, and said she would share it with him the next day.

    Meanwhile, my handwritten letter is somewhere in the US Mail, and I’m hoping it either gets forwarded to him or returned to me. Ha!

    Crazy. It’s a small world.

  • Corie Thuma

    Glad to hear the message got to him-he sounds wonderful! Miss you, friend!

  • Same here, Corie. Crazy small world. I miss you, too! I think Figs and I need to plan a trip to Zambia sometime in the next 10 years. 😉 It would be great to talk to you more in depth about all you’re learning and experiencing…but for now, I’m loving reading your blog. It gives me lots to process and chew on. 🙂

  • I had some good teachers, but the person who comes to my mind as my best teacher was one of my first “bosses.” She planted seeds of kindness in everything she said to me, while holding me responsible. I remember she would start a conversation with, “Let me put a bug in your ear.” Then afterwards, I would realize she had actually been correcting me. So gentle and strong.

    As for your teacher, at age 13, I admire him for not trying to be your friend. He was an authority that also seemed to show great compassion. I don’t think many 13 year old kids have that at school or at home. I loved this post!

  • Cindy, thanks for sharing. Wow–I love that. Gentle and strong is a good combination–so often it’s one or the other. I’ve experienced some great leadership in my work place as well, and it’s amazing how many life lessons I’ve learned through those people. It sounds like your boss was confident but respected people who worked for her.