Out of the blue, I received an email from a student who graduated college this past year. He wrote about a “senior letter” that I wrote and distributed to seniors on the last day of classes. (I didn’t do it last year for the first time… I don’t teach a critical mass of seniors anymore since I stopped teaching non-AP calculus.) I always hand these out thinking that students will read them, and then they will end up in the garbage. I’m okay with that. It’s more of a gesture to them: I care. I’ve cared. But this email update was sweet because he called
I was cleaning out my room yesterday in preparation for my move to DC to start my first post-grad job, when I came across the letter you wrote to our multivariable calc class when we graduated in [redacted]. I just wanted to let you know that the letter had a real effect on me again (just as it did four years ago). It gave me some great perspective of aspects related to learning that I remembered to do well in college and things I still want to work on as I start my first job.
He also said:
Given the perspective of a few years, it was probably my favorite math class I’ve ever taken. Everything I learned from my final project (and the long hours spent on p-sets) probably gave me the confidence to take linear algebra my freshman fall at [redacted].
I love this for all the reasons you can imagine. And now this student is off doing something super math-based.
I don’t think of what I do in the classroom as having a large impact on the lives of students. Even in this case, I think our time together just happened to be one of those “right place, right person, right time” things which might have slightly shifted how the student saw things/himself. I’m perfectly content (and always have been) being the teacher that recognizes that students have many classes and many teachers, so one teacher will likely never have a life-changing impact (except in rare circumstances that I don’t think I have ever fallen into). But heck if an email like this doesn’t remind me that sometimes I can be one of those teachers that can slightly shift something in the thinking of a student, and be fondly thought of and worthy of an email update four years after graduation.