Mr. E: A long overdue letter.
As a teenager, I attended a large public high school in a huge city with 9.8 million residents.
Like most public schools, it was overcrowded. Too many students. Not enough classroom space, supplies, or grown-ups available to manage the throngs. During lunch, thousands of students would explode into the quad like a swarm of locusts, jostling to squeeze to their lockers, laughing, flirting, sometimes fighting.
Most of the teachers were kind, passionate, and caring. All of the teachers were overworked and underpaid. Several made a permanent imprint on my life.
One was my history teacher in ninth grade.
I am humiliated to confess that I don’t remember his full name. It started with E. Mr. Einburg. Mr. Elliot. Something like that. But every other detail—I remember.
I remember his face. His slightly stooped posture. His graying curly hair. The location and layout of the room and exactly where I sat. Main building. Second floor. South corner. Final row of desks. To the left. Three seats back. And most of all, I remember how it felt to be inside his classroom.
Picture Bernie Sanders with a California tan. That was this teacher.
Mr. E taught history—but not the history found inside our state-issued textbooks, not the half-truths, glaring omissions, and excessively simplified stories, a war reduced to a glib paragraph.
He taught us the real history.
He was the first teacher, first authority figure, and (as I now reflect on it) the first white man I ever met who said things like, “You will notice there aren’t many stories about Black and Brown people in this textbook…” (he would say this while holding the book in his hands with visible disdain) “…and we need to talk about why that is.”
He spoke on behalf of people whose voices had been silenced.
He had us watch movies about union workers and their fight for safe conditions and better pay.
He told us harrowing details about bloody civil rights battles, racist systems, injustices from long ago and present day.
He told us these things because he wanted us to know the truth, he wanted us to care, and not be asleep.
He was steady, clear, and precise. All facts. No sugarcoating. His tone of voice signaled, “I am telling you this, because I respect you enough to be honest with you.”
For kids who hungered to know more, he kept his classroom open during lunch. He would answer questions, and ask difficult questions. He would tell stories, debate, or just chat with anyone who needed a safe place to land.
21 years later, I am still thinking about Mr. E. His work echoes in my mind and heart, in ways that I am just now fully realizing.
It pains me to know that—lost in my self-absorbed adolescent haze, worrying about college applications, passing my driver’s exam, whether my crush liked me back, and whether I ought to drink regular soda or Diet with no calories—I never properly thanked him.
I want to thank him now.
I share this story for two reasons.
Whoever is reading this, please reach out to a teacher today and say thank you. A school teacher or anyone who has influenced your life. A parent. An auntie. A coach.
Tell them, “You have impacted my life in so many ways, and here is just one…”
To everyone reading this, regardless of your vocation—whether you are a teacher, nurse, attorney, cupcake baker, yoga instructor, writer, artist, mystic, healer, or perhaps parenting full time—I know that sometimes it feels like your work doesn’t matter much.
Sometimes it feels like nobody is watching. Nobody is visiting your website. Only two people attended your last workshop. Or the sales aren’t rolling in. You feel invisible and unimportant.
Please trust that—just like Mr. E—you are impacting people deeply, in ways both seen and unseen.
You are planting seeds. You are creating a ripple effect that is bigger than you see and bigger than you know. You are more influential than you think.
Even if you are not receiving a voluminous flood of likes, hearts, comments, replies, clicks, or fan mail, your efforts matter.
21 years from now, someone might be writing a long overdue thank you letter dedicated to you.