In middle school I learned early on that there were two groups of kids that teachers seem to put you in. The group of kids they care about and the group of kids they didn’t. School work never really was a struggle for me but I never felt like anyone in the school system cared about me or how I did. I was young and impressionable and it was obvious that most teachers had their favorites and gave added attention to those chosen few. I was not in that group. Sometimes I would hear a teacher speaking to another teacher about less fortunate students saying “They’re a lost cause,” or speaking with another kid saying “College isn’t going to be for you.”

One day my seventh grade science teacher stopped me as I was leaving class and confronted me about what I was going to do with my life. I still am not sure why he stopped me that day but by now I had formed the opinion if they don’t care why I should? I started to blow him off with some sarcastic response (as I had learned to do with most of the teachers during that time of my life), yet when I did, instead of him giving me the “you’re not worth my time” look he called me by my name. This completely caught me off guard because teachers usually only knew the names of the serious trouble makers and those they seemed to care about. I didn’t seem to fit into either of those categories.

His next words changed my life forever. He simply said, “Mike, I’m not going to let you get off that easy. You can be whatever you want to be. You can do whatever you want to do. You can do more with your life if you choose to and I’m going to help you do just that if you will let me.” It took me a few minutes to register what he said and to this day I can still hear him saying that to me. For the rest of my time at that school this one teacher made time to speak with me as if I were an adult and worthy of the effort.

Kids pick up on more than we give them credit for. I would sometimes overhear other teachers ask him, “Why are you wasting time on those kids?” He would respond, “I guess they forgot to point out which kids I’m not supposed to help when I was hired so I guess I’ll just have to help as many as possible”.

Thank you Mr. Neal and to all those teachers out there like him for teaching beyond the text book. And for all you teachers out there that feel you have the right to pick and choose which child in your school gets left behind… what are you really saying about yourself?

“You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do.” ~ Carl Gustav Jung


Years later, I looked up Mr. Neal and found an address of where he lived which was several hours away.  One Saturday morning, I took my family on a little road trip to see if I would get lucky and find my seventh grade science teacher who had long since retired.  Well I did find him and after thirty five years from that encounter between a 7th grade kid and a teacher that cared, I thanked him personally in front of my wife and children for truly impacting my life more than he will ever know.

Submitted by Mike (Murfreesboro, TN)


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