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Opinion: No greater gift than student's appreciation

Retired Woodward Academy English teacher Carolyn Haldeman called me about using a quote in a book she is writing about teaching. She taught at Woodward for 44 years before retiring in 2015, but now conducts afternoon ESOL workshops for the school.

I enjoyed our chat and passed Carolyn's name to my husband and fellow AJC reporter Bo Emerson for a story he was preparing on favorite teacher gifts. Carolyn then sent me a follow-up that I am sharing here with her permission.

By Carolyn Haldeman

I woke up with the answer to your husband writer's question about great gifts from students.  The absolutely greatest Christmas gifts happening right now are the holiday greeting cards from former students.  The first "Happy Holidays" card came from Farisa Khalid, mailed Nov. 21 from D.C., where she works.

Each year the cards with photos show the progression of former students' lives.  Paul and Allison Turk, dorm students when we were dorm parents from 1972-1983, send annual cards of their family, including a daughter and two sons, usually with a backdrop from some wonderful vacation spot. Now their children are grown, and last year there was a young lady in the photo who had not been there the year before.  I am looking forward to grandchildren in this family soon.

Another dorm couple who were unlikely to fall in love, but did, are Alan Brandes, who led the Jewish services for students, and Elizabeth Peacock, daughter of a Baptist preacher. Both remain practicing members of their faiths. I asked what holidays they celebrate with their sons and Alan said, "All of them."

There is no greater gift than a student's appreciation. A star of Woodward plays, Eyad Houssami is now a writer (“Doomed by Hope: Essays on Arab Theatre,” 2012) and editor of the Arabic-English literary and academic journal in Beirut. Here is what Eyad wrote to me. "I remain oh so grateful for the passion and curiosity that you shared with us all -- bratty, arrogant, and riddled with raging teenage hormones, as we were."

I usually don't hear much from the students who are in college unless they need help with a paper, but I love their first excited emails regarding first jobs.

I also am honored when former students share their fears and disappointments -- the ones who decide that they don't really like their majors, the ones in the trials of a bad marriage, and the ones with a cancer diagnosis. In those particular cases, I am happy to report that all is now better for the students to whom I refer -- nothing to do with me, but they let me be there in their most vulnerable times.

My own three children used to complain occasionally that their friends could tell me all sorts of things and not be judged whereas I "freaked out" over them. Yep. True. As parents, you know that we can be objective about everyone except our own.  Then, it's personal.

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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.