#525 That teacher

Put your hand up if you ran from doorbells, hid behind pant legs, and avoided eye contact with grownups as a shy little kid.

Brothers and sisters, if your hand is up right now, you are not alone.

Yes, mute as a mouse, quiet as a cat, I was a short, snotty, bedhead-smeared ghost of a child until about eight years old.

That was when I was head-yanked out of my turtle shell by a cotton-white, curly-haired, crinkly-smiled teacher who pushed me every single day. For some reason Mrs. Dorsman cared, she just cared, and she had me reading to the class, talking out loud, and practicing my cursive on the blackboard.

Sadly, when I was 10 years old my family moved away and we completely lost touch. But the little germs of ideas she planted in me rooted deep and grew slowly as the years bumped on and on and on and on…

Yesterday morning I woke up and found this in my inbox:

— Email message —

From: Stella Dorsman

Neil, I just read the article in the Star this morning about your interesting life and upcoming book. I just need to know….are you the Neil Pasricha who was in my grade 3 class at Sunset Heights P.S.? If so, reading about you has been my truly awesome moment for today. I have been retired for ten years, but always remember my good students and hope that some of the emphasis I placed on writing skills eventually paid off. Please confirm your identity!

Best wishes,

Stella Dorsman

— Email message —

From: 1000 Awesome Things

It’s me! It’s me!

Mrs. Dorsman, you did indeed inspire and encourage me. I remember our class fondly! You are a fantastic and passionate teacher and I’m sure you encouraged thousands of students in your career. I count myself amongst the lucky! Thank you for calling my name on your attendance list outside the doors on that cold morning after Labor Day.


— Email message —

From: Stella Dorsman

Neil, SO HAPPY to hear from you…..and you’re old enough to call me “Stella” now! I also remember your Sunset Heights class as one of the highlights of my career…not all classes were as much fun.

I will indeed check out your book….I’m very proud of you…Stella

Well, we’ve all got those teachers who plant seeds inside us. Maybe it’s the baseball coach who leaves you on the mound after giving up some runs, maybe it’s the language teacher who helps you with that stutter after class, or maybe it’s the college professor whose inspirational talks fill you with the power to follow your dreams.

When Mrs. Dorsman picks up a copy of The Book of Awesome I hope she reads all the way to the Acknowledgments buried in the back and finds the tiny little note waiting there just for her.

“Special thanks to Mrs. Dorsman for pushing me out of my shell in third grade.”


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155 thoughts on “#525 That teacher

  1. HAND. UP.

    I was so shy. My parents were like, “What’s your deal? Why won’t you say hi to so & so? You know them!”

    I don’t know why. But I wouldn’t. I would hide.

    So I feel this post.

    And … as a teacher … I hope to inspire a child the way Mrs. Dorsman inspired you.

    Love it.

    1. My grade five teacher has been my inspiration and reason to become a teacher. She changed my life along with the lives of many others…

      She’s still teaching grade five now, 16 years later, and I now work with her at the same school but in kindergarten. Next year, we’re going to be teacher partners!


    1. Mrs. Miller, Mr. Twitchell and Ms. Bustle.

      All of the High School teachers that made me want to become a High School teacher. =D

      1. I feel so bad now, I nearly forgot my 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Woods.

        She helped me in so many ways when I was the odd ball out at a brand new school.


        1. that one teacher who make a difference in your life are truely awesome :)

          mr lette was my homeroom teacher from yr 7 to yr 12.. and got me out of my shell :)

          thank you mr lette! :)

          but… to this day i i couldnt think of calling him by his first name david.

  2. I’ve found a few of my great teachers on Facebook. Fun (but REALLY hard to call them by their first names in some cases).

    My mom used to be a teacher, and one of the stories she’d always told us was about a student whose writing skill she had encouraged. A couple of years ago, that student found my mom (despite my mom’s name change, since she wasn’t married yet during that teaching job). The student turned out to be the co-author of some of the “Chicken Soup” books (she and her husband run the company), and in one of those books was a dedication addressed to my mom, saying “wherever you are.” Every teacher should have that AWESOME moment, no matter how many decades later, of truly knowing that they made a difference.

  3. I have the pleasure of having some of my favorite teachers (ever) currently. Going to school is totally worthwhile when I have these teachers that completely understand what we’re going through and encourage us to reach out. They’ve really helped me break out and feel comfortable around teachers as well as students and people in general! Indeed, awesome!

  4. I had two of these teachers in my life. One in third grade who gave me confidence in my self and my abilities, and the second in high school when I needed to rediscover those qualities in myself. Two of the people who believed in me most, the second being one of the best friends I’ve ever had.
    The day I graduated high school I went to my old elementary school to see that 3rd grade teacher. She recognized me immediately, and we spent a long time catching up on who I’ve become over the years. It was nice to have the chance to stand there as an adult, and thank her for everything I learned from her so many years ago.
    Awesome, undoubtedly.

  5. I AM a teacher and your post made my day! For all the extra hours we work, thinking about what would be best for ‘our’ kids on this day and time – it’s comments from past and current students that absolutely make my day. Like most teachers, I have a little folder that has all the cards, messages etc given to my by students in it. It comes in handy on the tough days.

    Today I got to talk to a 12 year old boy who’s going down the wrong path, we chatted and I think I might have helped him for the future.

    Opportunities like these are the gold dust of life. I absolutely love being an high school teacher.

    Again, your post made my day!!!!!

  6. its not always a teacher! the person who helped me was the camp director at the ymca between my 1st and 2nd grade. if it wasn’t for frank i wouldn’t be who i am today.
    you’re lucky that you get to share this post with your teacher. i wish frank knew what he had done for me.

    As a teacher, I always hope that I help my students out of their shell. My Mrs. Dorsman was a professor he always had us call him by his first name. I recently learned that he passed, so Frank, if you can know, you are AWESOME! I hope to be as inspirational for my students as you were/ are for me.
    I love this site!

  8. Neil,

    You totally won me over as a new and ongoing fan. I just read about you on the webby awards tumblr blog. Since I’m an avid blogger and blog reader, I decided to check you out.

    Wow, this post exceeded my expectations.

    Truly Awesome Blog! (Awesome is one of my favorite words, too, by the way.)

    I also love to give shout outs to my former and current teachers, including my kids’ teachers. I believe it is so important to acknowledge their impact on our lives. They are what makes American education right, despite all of the ups and downs and complaints about schools in America.

    Again, thanks for sharing some awesome stuff, Neil.

  9. What an incredible writer you are, drawing us all into bits of your history.

    I had the opportunity a few years ago to be able to pay back the favor to my Psych teacher from my Senior year. Out of the blue, I saw Dr. Burns on the news in a story about his health. He had polio when he was younger, tho he was so magnetic a personality one forgot his disability soon after meeting him.

    In the news story, he had been misdiagnosed with post-polio syndrome, a painful and debilitating condition for which there is no cure. He admitted in the interview he’d decided to take his own life before he found out about the error in the diagnosis. I immediately grabbed the phone book and found he was listed, so I wrote and told him the positive impact he’d had on my life, opening my mind to inquiry instead of accepting the status quo. I also told him if he *ever* considered suicide again, to think of me and all the other students whose lives he’d changed, and I’d be grateful if he’d call me if that wasn’t enough incentive to continue living.

    Shortly after, I had a voice mail from him, telling me he was excited to hear from me because I was one of “those students” who’d impacted *his* life. Fortunately, he’s never called from that desperate place of deep depression.


  10. Wow….this one brought tears to my eyes, Neil. I, of course, had a few teachers just like that. First, my 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Boggs. I moved around a lot as a kid and I was only in her class for a few months, but she inspired me so much. She brought out my creative side. She introduced poetry to me and I still write to this day. Then the two who inpired me the most, 8th grade science teacher, Mr. Williams and 11th grade biology teacher Mr. Lyons. It was because of them that my dreams were in Biology. Then last is Mrs. Estep, my 10th grade history teacher. She taught me so much. She connected me with kids that I probably would have never talked to if it wasn’t for her. She made me strive for my best. I do miss her immensely.
    Thanks so much for this post. If it wasn’t for these teachers, I don’t know exactly who I would have ended up being. They helped mold me and I will forever be greatful.

  11. Found my way here from the same article in The Star. So glad that I did. This post made me all teary eyed. Congratulations on your book.

  12. That is truly awesome! Unexpected emails from people you admire from your past give you a great feeling. I’m sure your teacher feels so proud to have been part of what made you, you.

  13. This completely made my day. I’m so happy your book made it possible to connect with Mrs. Dorsman again. (There’s no calling her “Stella”! She’s a teacher! :)

  14. That is absolutely incredible.

    I had the exact same thing happen in third grade. We’d just moved to a new town, and I was NOT happy. I spent the first week of school sitting in the hallway, utterly refusing to go into the classroom. Until the day Mrs. Kaltenbach, who was about five feet tall and weighed maybe 100 pounds, grabbed me under my arms and literally pulled me into the classroom.
    And from there began one of the best school years of my life.

  15. See, I’m studying to be a teacher (though it’s for High School) and inspiring students is exactly what I want to do.

    This post just made me smile so much!!

    Someday I’m going to be the teacher that the students will remember.

    Awesome, awesome, awesome.

  16. My third grade teacher was awesome. Actually all my elementary teacher were A+. There care leaked into their teaching. I was super shy and they really loved on me. Wouldn’t be where I am now without them.
    Sweet and thoughtful post.

  17. This is truly awesome. I think I’ll be trying to make some of my favourite teachers proud with everything I do for the rest of my life.

    Mr. Capretta, Mrs. Savaterri, Mr. Chiarelli, thank you.

  18. One of the ones that speaks directly to me! I was (am?) the kind of dork who, for a couple of years, could call one or two teachers good friends. (Of course I was lucky enough to be at a really excellent school.) What a cool feeling it was (is!) to find oneself on a level with them, and realize that they’re human beings who you have as much right to be fond of as, say, your uncle or aunt — except the gifts they gave you lasted longer than a few bills :)

    I laughed at “you’re old enough to call me “Stella” now!”.

  19. My teachers made me what I am today. Mr. Amirault, who read Roald Dahl to us on autumn afternoons; Ms. Flynn, who taught me that it’s cool to be a nerd; Ms. Flood, who showed us punks what the insides of churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples looked like; Ms. Popplewell, who encouraged us to compare and contrast Batman vs. Hamlet; Mr. Giannotti, who let us off the hook when we set the chemistry lab on fire; Mr. Creighton, who introduced me to Bruegel, Rothko, and Giacometti, so that I would recognize them when I eventually got to see them face to face; Prof. Bone, who got my blood boiling over due process; and Dr. Spence, who basically allowed me to teach to the value of expression to myself to myself over long walks through the meadow… I owe them so much. Thanks for reminding me to reach out to them, Neil.

  20. I have four of these teachers.

    3 of them came along at the same time lol.

    The first was Mrs Campanelli, she was my form tutor in Year 8 (I was 12/13). Technically she taught me for English, French and History (I think) but she also ended up teaching me beginners Italian because I finished my other work too quick lol.

    The 3 that came together were Mrs Brannen, Miss Woodcock and Mr Broom – without them 3 I would have been kicked out of Sixth Form and I would still be working towards my degree – they put their necks on the line for me to stay and I am so incredibly grateful.

  21. As a teacher, I think this is my favorite Awesome Thing yet. I can only hope I am “That Teacher” to some of my students.

  22. I had a teacher in the sixth grade who taught me so much about caring for others and how to interact with others. She taught me how to be myself.

    I think one of my favorite teachers of all time was Ms. Lane. She taught me that when you’re passionate about something, you can do whatever you want. She also taught me the importance of doing your BEST. Not to settle for something, but to strive to do it. She was the best french teacher EVER , and the reason why I can’t be a french teacher, because there’s no way I would ever be able to be as good.

  23. I can’t remember how to spell her name–Ms. Mikhail?–but I loved her. She was my 5th grade teacher and she was just born to do it. She loved us, and she would make the class so interesting. I have often wondered where she is now.

  24. This post nearly brought me to tears!
    I remember when I was a senior in high school and working in retail, one of my favourite grade school teachers came into the store I worked in and recognized me. As I rang her up, she told me she was so happy to see what a smart and beautiful young woman I had grown into.
    Here’s to all the great teachers out there!

    1. My boyfriend, a 7th-8th grade public school teacher, had The Week From Hell this week. I just sent him this to cheer him up. He loves his job, and I know his kids will remember him in just this way.
      Also – my pre-ordered copy of The Book of Awesome came today!! Hooray!!

  25. I had two specific teachers who literally changed my life for the better! I am SO grateful. Thanks for the awesome post and congrats on your new book!

  26. That teacher, for me, died last week. Allow me to share some of the awesome with you…


    WHITE, SARAH ANN, age 87, passed away on April 8, 2010. She was a true Southern lady, the daughter of the late Charles Finley White and Johnnie Mae Mehaffey White. Sarah Ann was preceded in death by her parents, her brother, John White (Alice), her sister, Clyde Hamm (Howard), and her niece, Billy Clyde Lillja. She is survived by her niece, Meredith Wilson; great-nieces and nephews, Amanda and Austin Wilson, Elizabeth Newlin (Jay) and Chris (Christine) Lillja; great-great nieces and nephews, Noah and Ryan Lillja, Charlie and Toby Newlin. She is also survived by her adopted family: Catherine J Reeves, Gary and Kathy Reeves, Steven Reeves, Eric Reeves, Janet and Jeremy Lewis (Jonathan and Justin); and her life-long friend Mary Jo Ventress. Sarah Ann taught for 45 years at Robinson Elementary School. Sarah Ann’s loving, caring nature endeared her to her many friends and students. She was a graduate of Wesleyan College in Macon, GA, class of 1943, and a recipient of the Wesleyan Alumni Award. She also earned MA and AA degrees from UAB. She was an active member of the Gamma chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma. She was the recipient of the Valley Forge Teachers Medal and a winner of the Freedom Foundation Award in 1966. Sarah Ann was the author of the “Serendipity” series of articles for the Birmingham Education Bulletin for many years. She served as President of both Birmingham and Alabama State ACE. She was a pioneer teacher on the first educational television. Sarah Ann was Alabama’s Favorite Teacher of the Year for 1969. She received the Liberty Bell Award in 1973 and the Delta Kappa Gamma Distinguished Service Award in 1983. She is survived by hundreds of students who love and adore her, many keeping in close contact through the years. Visitation will be at Ridout’s Roebuck Chapel from 3 to 6 PM on Saturday, April 10. The funeral will be held at Grace Episcopal Church, where Sarah Ann was a lifetime member, on Sunday, April 11 at 2 PM, with Rector Rob Johnson officiating. Burial will be at Elmwood Cemetery.

  27. This post made me cry. I have a beautiful, smart daughter who suffers from an extreme form of Social Anxiety called Selective Mutism. I hope and pray for teachers like Mrs. Dorsman every day. She has had a few and they help her so much. So on behalf of all of those parents who are rooting for their child, Thank you Mrs. Dorsman!

  28. When my first novel was published, I sent an autographed copy to each of my four former high school English teachers, with a note of thanks. I don’t think that people thank their teachers often enough.

    Congratulations again on your book release, and thanks for thanking your teacher.

  29. This is really timely. I’ve been searching for my high school English teacher (by a fluke, she was my teacher for three years) for years, and I just connected with her on Facebook.

    It is amazing to reflect back on the influence inspiring teachers had on our careers. I am now getting an advanced degree in English and working as a writer!

  30. Neil, my eyes are misting over…thank you so much. I’ve told this story to several people over the past 24 hours and emailed it to my retired teacher friends. I’m now going to email today’s blog to my daughter who lives in Toronto and my son who teaches school in Melbourne, Australia.
    Can’t wait to check out THE BOOK. I wish you continued success, Stella

    1. How touching this whole thing is! The ultimate reward for any teacher / coach / mentor, etc. is to hear that they’ve helped or encouraged someone in some way. Expressing your gratitude to that person is something we should all be sure to do.

      I’m so happy to see that Mrs. Dorsman read this and has experienced yet again the true joy that is knowing you’ve inspired someone.

  31. i am not sure why, but this entry totally made me tear up sitting in my cubicle at work. I have many influencial coaches and teachers and youth pastors from my childhood/teenage years. I hope they all know how much they impacted me….I’ve pretty much contacted them all at one time or another to let them know what they meant to me. :)

  32. like others, this post made me get teary. Thanks Neil as i should not cry @ work :)
    I think my favorite was your response to Mrs. Dorsman saying, “it’s me! it’s me!” I love it.

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