December Inspired2Educate Winner

Adam DeSimone, Social Studies Teacher
Watertown , MA

Being an educator isn’t easy. Our vocation doesn’t automatically conjure respect and we all know what our pay is like. But we also know how powerful and important our jobs are, and we know how our work impacts our pupils’ lives. Even with all the assessments we engineer it’s hard to tell if we actually get through to anyone, and when we do we don’t always get to enjoy the benefits of our work. For my Creative Writing teacher this was especially true since it took a full 10 years for his lesson to finally land.

I gave Mr. Talon no shortage of reasons to loath my presence. I was brash and arrogant, and even though senior year was well into the future I already had the swagger of an upper classmen. I wasn’t the class clown or the kid who derailed lessons, but once I made up my mind on an issue there was no force on Earth that could get me to change my mind. I was confident, probably a little too confident, and I challenged any issue I took exception too. Even so, Mr. Talon’s quirky behavior and raw intellect meant I couldn’t help but respect the guy, and I’d occasionally keep my mouth shut just to listen to what he had to say.

One day during a particularly cacophonous class, Mr. Talon seemingly snapped and shut everything down. He commanded us to clear our desks and take out a sheet of paper. Readying ourselves for some sort of punitive assignment he got to work writing instructions on the board. I remember being confused when the instructions simply told us to write a letter to ourselves that we would want to receive in 10 years. That was it. No rubric or lesson objectives, just the basic prompt and a due date.

I don’t know why but my imagination ran away with this assignment. Never one to finish anything early I actually found myself writing multiple drafts of my letter before I handed in my work. Still, when I turned it in I never thought about the assignment again. After all, we didn’t have to provide Mr. Talon with an envelope or a stamp so there was no reason to think that this was anything other than a way to get us to shut up for a while…

Time passed as it invariably does and one day my parents called me saying they got an envelope addressed to me. I swung by after work and was surprised that I wasn’t picking up a credit card offer. Whatever it was it was hand-written, and looked the way a birthday card would. I opened it up, and after a pausing blankly for a moment, lightning struck and I was taken back to Mr. Talon’s class.

The work I put into this note could have been mistaken for prescience. Among other things I told my future self that if I wasn’t happy with my life I should figure out what went wrong and make a plan to fix it. As it turned out I was miserable. Every day at work was worse than the last and even though I tried to kid myself by going to business school at night deep down I knew that things weren’t going to get better. I needed to do something drastic, and the version of myself not preoccupied with money knew I’d find myself here someday.

Later that week I wrote to Mr. Talon to thank him and to let him know I was enrolling in a Masters of Education program. We swapped notes agreeing to get a coffee sometime soon. Some weeks later I logged into Facebook and, unusual for my feed, saw comments on an obituary. Paul, a Creative Writing teacher in his early 50s, died suddenly of a heart attack.

I wish we had that coffee. Did my class learn what he wanted us to? I can’t imagine his goal was for me to become a teacher, but he must have wanted some type of reflective exercise to occur. Whatever it was, Paul’s work speaks volumes of the hard-to-quantify value that good teachers bring into our lives.

I end my academic years with an exercise similar to his, and In 2025 I will mail my first batch of letters. Included will be a note explaining that my delivery is how I am honoring Paul’s memory, that his work saved me from a life of spreadsheet drudgery, and that I hope their letter will provide a moment in their lives just as touching as the one Mr. Talon once provided me. One wonders then, not only of the impact of a good teacher, but also how many more lives Paul Talon will change.