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"I remember. And I’m sorry." An ex-teacher shares 5 letters she wishes she could send to her former students.

Dear Student of Mine,

It’s me, Ms Stroud – your daggy old teacher from twenty years ago. I wanted to let you know how special it was for me to see you working at the hospital the other day. I was with my daughter, visiting a relative and saw you in the front foyer.

It was something else, Student of Mine, to see you all grown up and working as a physio. You were beautiful with that young couple and their new bub. I watched as you walked them out of your rooms – reassuring them and telling them they’re doing a great job. And then the way you collected your next patient – an elderly man – respectfully greeting him as ‘Mr Boates’ and welcoming his wife, slowing your stride to walk beside them as they tottered along with walking frames and walking sticks. I could tell you were observing his posture and gait, already making your assessments. I felt such pride, Student of Mine.

I can still remember teaching you: a tall, uncertain teenage girl. You’d recently lost your father and I was always aware of your grief, that pain you kept hidden from your peers but shared with me in your written work. You were learning so much that year, Student of Mine. My “teacher-heart” tried to help you navigate the way. And look at you now, luminous with compassion and empathy, aware that your job involves more than manipulating joints and stretching muscles. My teacher-heart felt honoured when you caught my eye, smiled and waved.

Watch: Teachers, translated. Post continues after video.

“Do you know that girl?” my daughter asked.

“Yes,” I said.  “I taught her.”

So proud of you, Student of Mine.

Ms Stroud

***

Hey Student of Mine,

Yeah – it’s me, Ms Stroud. I wanted to say hi, hope you’re well. I saw you this morning, putting fuel in your ute. I reckon you saw me too, but you looked away. Why wouldn’t you? I remember. And I’m sorry.

I know school felt like torture for you. I can still see you hunched at your desk at 9am, bracing for the day ahead, marking time until the final bell. Every day your face was a storm of emotions – anger, discomfort, fear. Somewhere along the line you’d received the message that school wasn’t the place for you. And someone, somewhere along the line, had dropped the ball. You couldn’t read, could barely write and yet, you were twelve years old.

I want you to know I tried. I tried to bend and shape that rigid curriculum – tried to slow it down and create a space where you could fit. I tried to defend you in staff meetings too – tried to give voice to your frustrations, tried to find funding and support, tried to offer an explanation for all that playground fighting, those fists you’d use because words always failed.

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I’m going to say hello next time, Student of Mine. My teacher-heart wants to know how your story’s going. I hope you found your way (I noticed that wedding ring!). There’s a measure of ego that sits within my teacher-heart, I like to think I contributed to every student’s life but I might forever believe that I failed you.

Again, I’m sorry,

Ms Stroud

***

Student of Mine!

Yes, of course I remember you!  Year 3, 2004.  You loved Maths and loathed spelling. You taught me that “tongue brushing” was part of good dental hygiene and you came to Book Week dressed as Sponge-Bob Square Pants! My teacher-heart does not forget a student!

Listen: Why Gabbie Stroud broke up with teaching. Post continues after audio.

Thanks for reaching out, I’d be more than happy to talk to you about studying a Bachelor of Education. I always thought you had the makings of a teacher: you loved handing out the books and sharpening the pencils. More than that, you loved to learn and you had boundless patience. Can you remember that lunch time when you organised an enormous game of “duck, duck, goose” and all the Juniors joined in? You should certainly go ahead and fill out those University enrolment forms!

Speak soon,

Ms Stroud

***

Dear Student of Mine,

Congratulations! Your first baby! I bumped into your mum at the supermarket and she couldn’t whip out her phone fast enough! She showed me a thousand pictures and I loved every one. It’s crazy the pride my teacher-heart feels for students I’ve taught… just like the feelings of hope and aspiration you’ll feel for your new little one, a teacher feels the same for her students.

Your mum tells me that your business is still going strong: smart move to employ someone while you adjust to motherhood. I often hear people recommending your business and I see it advertised in various places. The little voice within my teacher-heart gloats: “I taught her!”

I’ll let you go now. You’re probably knee-deep in nappies and breastmilk – good luck with that! I’m sending lots of love and best wishes for that newbie – remember to read to him, as often as you can. “Harry the Dirty Dog” was a favourite of yours.  You loved the cover: “Ms Stroud, those two dogs are exactly the same but different!” Let me know if you can’t find a copy… I’m sure I have my old one from the classroom.

Ms Stroud

***

Hello Little Student of Mine,

Yes – look at that map you’ve made, with hidden treasure and a rainbow over the mountains. I like the way you’ve drawn the river with crocodiles snapping and a desert with camels. I can see how you’ve attempted to create a compass rose and even a scale! You’re so very, very clever, Student of Mine.

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Today you’re looking up at me with those five-year old eyes, seeking my support and validation. And that’s how I’ll hold you in my teacher-heart.  Even as you grow up and grow your wings and fly away from me, I’ll forever remember you as this young man, learning and discovering and curious and creative, drawing maps in my classroom and telling stories and nearly falling asleep in the afternoons because you wore yourself out playing soccer at lunch!

Even when you’re seventeen with P-plates on your car, waving at me as we pass on the road… even as you offer to shout me a drink when our paths cross at the pub some twenty years from now… even as you friend request me to send pictures of your Uni graduation… you will always be in my teacher-heart as this little student, drawing maps.

I wish and hope so many things for you Little Student of Mine, not least of which is your happiness.

Yes.. Little Student, I’m listening, I’m here… I was just thinking about you growing up, that’s why I was smiling. You’re right, that’s the bell! Let’s go outside. It’s time for you to play….

GABBIE STROUD is a teacher gone rogue! Aware that the education system wasn’t serving the needs of its students or their teachers, Gabbie left the classroom and has become a passionate advocate for teachers and educational reform. Today, her life is a special blend of chaos as she juggles teacher advocacy, freelance writing, co-parenting and online dating. (Nah – just kidding. She doesn’t have time for dating.)

For more from Gabbie Stroud:

“It’s not a school’s job to teach your children resilience. Teachers are busy enough already.”

‘Great pay and 12 weeks holiday.’ An open letter about what a teacher really does in a day.

‘The frustrating moment when I knew I had to give up on teaching.’

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