Eyes and Ears


Tara is one of my graduate students. She shared a powerful story about a middle school math teacher who noticed her suffering and took action. Although she did not appreciate it at the time, she later recognized the significance of Mr. Collins in her life.

Seventh grade was a difficult year for me. I was struggling with an undiagnosed mental illness, and nobody was aware of the depth of my pain. At school, I found respite in my English classes, but I loathed math. Although I rarely spoke in his class, Mr. Collins somehow recognized that something was wrong. He took the steps necessary to get me help and informed my parents that I was having serious problems. I hated him for that. Not only did he teach my least favorite subject, but I also felt like he got me in trouble because he figured me out.

When I was 24, I felt compelled to reach out to Mr. Collins. I sent him an e-mail and acknowledged that, as a middle schooler, I viewed him and his class as terrible. But I also needed him to know he saved my life. I truly did have a suicide plan in place, and his actions led to my getting help. Because he noticed the signs and reached out to my family, I received diagnosis and proper treatment. I told him that I ended up becoming an elementary school teacher, working with underprivileged children.

Mr. Collins responded and said he always wondered what happened to me after the year I was in his class. He then revealed why he recognized my suffering and felt compelled to help. He intervened because he missed the signs with his own daughter a few years prior to that school year. I never knew he had a daughter, let alone one who suffered and died because of mental illness. He told me that becoming a teacher was my opportunity to pay it forward, to be the eyes and ears for the children in front of me who don’t have somebody else paying attention to the warning signs, like he did for me. Those words from Mr. Collins inspire me to take action for students in need every day.

A teacher’s ability to notice and respond to students’ needs is a consistent theme in my data. There are countless examples of the ways teachers change hearts, minds and lives. This powerful story is evidence that teachers also save lives. Was there a special teacher who looked beyond the day to day distractions and busyness to notice you?

Wishing you an endless supply of chalk and chances-


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