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Thank you for everything

Letters to the teachers that helped me survive school

By Davide ZezzaPublished 2 years ago 13 min read
Top Story - February 2022
Thank you for everything
Photo by Deleece Cook on Unsplash

My hometown heroes are the teachers that raised me.

The teachers that dragged me through the most difficult years of my life. The teachers that realised that underneath my arrogant unfeeling exterior was a traumatised, insecure, scared little boy. The teachers that gave me second, third, fourth and fifth chances. The teachers that were understanding of my ADHD, my depressive tendencies, of my generic emotional overwhelm. The ones that saw my frustration with life and didn’t shame me or punish me for any of it, but tried to help me figure out ways to succeed instead.

The Drama teacher that made me take a hard look at myself and address the source of my pain, of my anger and encouraged me to explore and express it in a safe non-judgemental environment. The same teacher that helped me learn to live in the moment from time to time, to be silly and playful and joyful because why not be?

The other Drama teacher that taught me how to speak from my diaphragm, project my voice and to be heard. The drama teacher that taught me about body language, what it communicates to the world and to yourself. The Drama teacher that inadvertently helped me understand how to use body language, voice, facial expressions and gestures to get along better with other people.

The English teacher who upon looking at my fiction coursework asked me “are you alright, do you need to talk to someone” and sat with me after class and listened to me talking about my mental health struggles. The teacher that encouraged me to “write what you know” realising that it could be good therapy to get everything out on paper and talk about it together.

The Spanish teacher that opened my eyes to another culture. The teacher that understood how painful it was for me to sit still in a chair. To do the same things over and over again every day for seven years. The teacher who understood my need for new places, new people, new experiences and a deeper understanding of the world. The Spanish teacher who is quite possibly the most exemplary female role model that I have ever had.

The Form Tutor who looked after when my appendix turned on me in India. Who held my hand as they took me into surgery. The one who laid the facts out as they were, and didn’t push me to make any particular decision about my life. Who didn’t punish me or judge me for my weekend hedonism but made the long-term consequences very clear to me. The one who made me understand that our daily choices impact who we will become.

The Form Tutor who dragged me out of the library and away from my books on the first day of school and forced me to befriend the boys that I grew up with. The ones I go for drinks with when I visit my hometown. The ones I'm still in touch with after all these years.

Some heroes wear capes. Some wear fireproof jackets. Some carry stethoscopes. Some feed a family of five on a minimum wage job. My heroes didn't fly through the air, rush into burning buildings or cure cancer. They were humble and down-to-earth. They wore button down shirts, silly ties and jackets stained with chalk. They carried coffee mugs in their hands and pens in their pockets.

Though my teachers were unassuming people, they had a profound impact on me. So much so that upon graduating I wrote my teachers a letter each to say thank you and to let them know a little more about me.

I'd like to share those letters as a thank you to my teachers and to teachers the world over. I also hope it inspires youngsters to find mentors that believe in them, and that help them to believe in themselves, much like mine did for me.

By Hamish Kale on Unsplash


You have had the misfortune to have to put up with me as I went through what have may been quite possibly, the two most difficult years of my life. But they've also been really good.

When we started year twelve I wasn't in the best of places and I've had my ups and downs over the past two years, for various reasons, but the thing with Drama is that you have to forget your worries, even if just for one lesson, and focus on what you're doing, then and there. It distracts you from whatever's going on inside your head. Concentration.

I don't know whether teaching me has been easy, difficult, fun or disastrous, but I just wanted to let you know that being taught by you has been great, and that it has helped me a lot.

I've had lots of teachers and they're all great for different things but in the brief two years that you taught me you managed to do something that no teacher, regardless of subject has been able to. Through your unique brand of tough-love teaching, mixed with the enthusiastic craziness of a post-halloween child, you've forced me to drop the pretensions, drop the seriousness- to just be and do- and I am truly thankful for that.

In your lessons I learned that it's ok to let go, that it's not necessary or particularly healthy to be in control, and that by bottling it all up it actually ends up controlling you. That by removing inhibition and doing the most absurd things imaginable, you'll end up the most human. In drama I have not only learned about who I am, but also realised that it's ok to be that person.

Your lessons are fun, they're different and they force you to think outside the box, and to tear it up, and reassemble it in the shape of a hat, and then eat cereal from it before wearing it on your knee as you stand on one leg singing nursery rhymes. Why? Why the hell not? You taught us to approach things laterally, diagonally and any other "ally" that is humanly possible. To indulge in spontaneity and sheer human curiosity.

You are, without a shadow of a doubt, the most human teacher I know. In my head there's no distinction between you in class, and you in the real world. I assume that the way you are with us is the way you are in life, and if that's not the case, then you really are a drama teacher, and I don't want you to ruin the illusion. But seriously, either way I think that your approach to drama really helped me, and hopefully the rest of the class. So thank you.

By Tamara Gak on Unsplash


You've taught me since the start of year ten all the way through to A level. As a drama teacher you've seen me grow up in a way that few other teachers, and people for that matter, are able to, and I'm thankful for that because I think that studying drama has shaped me for the better.

I'm not a particularly religious person, but I do consider myself to be relatively spiritual and I really do think that drama is nurturing for the soul (whatever that may be) and that it can provide someone with the peace, harmony and clarity that people like me tend to seek in all the wrong places.

Walking in to the drama room for me is comparable to the feeling some people get when they step into a church as it has an instantly calming and uplifting effect on me. The drama room is the place where you can suspend your disbelief and pretend to be something else, even if it is just for fifty minutes. And the weird thing is, that by exploring other people, pretending to be something that you're not, you actually get a pretty good grip on who you really are.

I've found it to be an extremely rewarding subject not only on a personal scale but in terms of my relationships with other people. Drama gives you such a sense of control over yourself, which leads to self awareness, and in turn awareness of others. It forces you to think about things like body language, facial expressions, tone, pitch, eye contact and all the idiosyncrasies that help to make a person who they are. All of these are things that have helped, and will help me be nice, and get along with other people.

I've also learned to dig deeper, to scratch beneath the surface of a play, a situation or a character and try to find what's underneath. In other words, drama helps you see the subtext in life.

I think you're the only teacher who can strike that balance between friend and authority figure, you're fun and friendly and willing to do anything for any of your students, but you also make it quite clear that you won't be messed around, and that is how you have built the mutual respect that I think our class has.

I may have over analysed slightly, or placed too much importance on the trivial, but if nothing else, I truly believe that I am at the very least, a more rounded person because of drama, and that is because of you, your deep appreciation and knowledge of the subject, and the enthusiasm and creativity you bring to that room every single lesson.

By Jaredd Craig on Unsplash


Finally, a piece of writing that you don't have to proof read, mark or analyse. Unless you really want to that is.

I just wanted to thank you for the past two years, it's teachers like you that make us enthusiastic about a subject and although I may not have always shown it, being in your lessons has been an absolute joy. I cruised through school, relying on natural ability and a minimal amount of study, and it wasn't until A level that things got challenging. I wanted to give up. You forced me to challenge myself as a writer, as an english student and as a person. I got to understand how rewarding it can be to put effort into something as simple and yet beautifully complicated as a short story.

Much of my coursework was about me, (as you well know) and that's why I struggle somewhat with school, but by writing about it, by doing research on the subject I realised that it can't become an excuse, that at some point you just need to decide that you are going to get better, because that's the only way you will.

I wouldn't have shown any another English teacher my coursework, a testament to how much I trust you not only as a teacher but as a person. You are yourself, unashamedly so, and that's a rarity amongst teachers. It is something to be admired and is in part what has gained you so much popularity amongst the students.

What I'm trying to say is that if you weren't my English teacher, or if I didn't trust you so much, I wouldn't have done that coursework, and I wouldn't have had the opportunity to externalise all the things that were in my head, or the opportunity to research the topic, and in turn I doubt I'd have got any better health-wise, or that I'd have received such a good mark for my coursework.

Due to your age, you're in a great position to teach A level. You manage to be friendly and open, but still command respect, because you respect us. You've been less like the standard, authoritative teacher, and more like a like-minded mentor, and i think that's what sixth formers need. You made it clear that yes, you have to work, and listen, and learn, but you've also always been there to help, and your relaxed approach made the whole process a damn sight easier.

I feel as though I've learned a lot from you about English, writing and life in general. You sparked my interest in writing, letting me write what i wanted without censorship or judgement.

You radiate a passion for your subject and have so much to offer on basically any other subject. Seriously, sometimes it's seems like you know everything. Terrifying. And in the rare case that you don't know something, you happily admit defeat and decide to tackle the topic with healthy discussion, which gets us thinking, which is good. You feed your students creativity and we are all eternally grateful to you for it.

You're one of the few good teachers here and certainly the best English teacher I’ve ever had, and anyone who isn't taught by you is missing out.

By Jon Tyson on Unsplash


You’ve been my teacher for seven years, ever since I was eleven. You’ve seen me grow from a boy into an adult (almost). I’ve learned a lot and I’ve found what I want to study at University and for the rest of my life. Languages will open the door to a world of opportunities and experiences that I can’t wait to live. They will be a way to see the world and to learn everything about their respective cultures, be it Spanish or Catalan, Quechua or Tibetan.

I know that I’m a difficult person, and I imagine that teaching me hasn’t been easy. I know that I’m not the perfect student and I’m sorry for not being able to be who you wanted me to be. I like to learn but I don’t like studying. I know that I won’’t be able to rely on natural ability at University and that I will have to work hard. If I get into Uni I’m confident that I’ll be able to do so as I’ll have a narrow focus on the subject that interests me the most. The gap between Secondary and University is a big one and I know that I need to focus more if I want to make all my dreams come true. Perhaps it is time for me to live fully in the present. Perhaps I ought to stop wasting time with my head in the clouds, for another four years at least.

I don’t know how, nor do I know why, but for some reason you seem to know me incredibly well. Sometimes when we’re talking and I look into your eyes I feel as though you see right through me and through all the lies. As if you see the real me and not what I show people. You have no idea how unsettling I find it, but if it weren’t for that I don’t think I would have tried so hard in your class.

Thank you for your patience, for your generosity, for the second, third and fourth chances and for the seven years of Spanish that are set to change the rest of my life.

By Abhishek Singh on Unsplash


Congratulations on shepherding your first A level class! I'm glad I got to be a part of the experience. I wanted to thank you for everything, from hospital rooms in the Himalayas, University references, job references and everything else in between.

It's really refreshing to have a tutor like you because whilst you enjoy your job, and you devote time to it, it is also clear that you your life doesn't end at school. You balance work and play, somehow managing to do both really well, and it's nice to see that it can be achieved. It helped me understand that ones life doesn't start at the weekend, but nor does it finish on a Monday morning.

I'm pretty sure you have me down to a tee (the goodbye card you gave me freaked me out) so i'm glad that you were my form tutor, rather than anyone else. I guess you get to know people pretty well when you wander the Himalayas with them.

I found your letter the most difficult to write, and at first I thought, "Damn, he hasn't affected me" then I started thinking, and it occurred to me that it's just your method. You didn't make me do anything I wasn't capable of, or that I didn't want to. You sort of laid the facts on the table, that if I wanted a future I needed to buck up my ideas, and that was that. It's more about suggestions than it is about commands. You just let me figure things out for myself. As an authoritative figure you're in the shadows, somehow managing to influence kids without them knowing it, and of course, you're always there for the fall.

To extend Ignacio de Loyola's quote; I might have the matches, but you helped me realise I could get hold of some gasoline, if only I tried.

By Brett Jordan on Unsplash

"Go forth, and set the world on fire." St Ignacio de Loyola.

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Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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  1. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  2. Eye opening

    Niche topic & fresh perspectives

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