My first teaching job was at Murray High School in Salt Lake City, Utah. I was somewhat anxious about teaching in a school where 80% of the students practiced the same religion as me, mostly because if they knew what I knew, then I would hope their behavior would reflect that.
I forgot they were still teenagers, and I was still a first-year teacher.
My 5th hour senior English class that year was one rowdy group. I spent many days trying to figure out how to rein them in, and most of the time, I failed. My biggest worry was that the few students who wanted to learn couldn’t.
And just when I was close to completely giving up on that class, Andy stayed after one day. He thanked me for sticking with teaching. He said I was doing a great job. And then he left.
From that day on, he was a leader in that class. Several athletes were in that 5th hour, and Andy, a football player and wrestler, must have said something to those athletes, because suddenly my problems with them disappeared. And occasionally, when I’d get exasperated, Andy would give an encouraging smile, and I would remember that even if he was the only person getting anything out of the class, that was enough.
Andy graduated that year, and a year later, he walked into my classroom with an invitation to his missionary farewell. He also invited me to a church event prior to his mission that is usually attended only by family and close friends. I was humbled to be part of that. And while he was on his mission, he wrote me about every other month, telling me how well he was learning Spanish and how much he loved the people he served.
What I didn’t anticipate about teaching a bunch of LDS kids was what would happen after graduation–going to their missionary farewells, getting their wedding announcements and their Christmas cards. Sharing a faith may not have helped a whole lot while they were still teens, but once they graduated, it sure was something special.
An afterthought: that first year, I received an untraceable, anonymous email from someone in one of my classes. It told me I was doing a great job, and the author apologized for the behavior of his peers. The email was several paragraphs and ended with this: “Please don’t quit teaching because of our class. You’re an awesome teacher.”
I’ve always thought Andy was the person who sent that email.