#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. A wonderful post – especially as you included the correspondence. Stella – you are making MY eyes mist over. Sadly the two teachers that played defining roles in the development of “me” are gone now – Jack Barnes and Vivian Chavis – the latter I wrote about in this blog post:


    Bless you Stella – I hope you’re inspiring new teachers all over.

  2. Your post put tears in my eyes… happy, AWESOME tears!

    I recently found your blog… I think it is AWESOME!

    Congratulations on your book!

  3. Those e-mails are so sweet!!

    I am still in touch with one of my teachers from school, and I live in a small town so see others from time to time, its always great to catch up and see how things have been going!

  4. Well done, Neil. Mrs. Dorsman (and all the other wonderfully memorable teachers out there!), you are AWESOME!

  5. Mrs. Compton… to this day, she is my all time #1 favorite teacher… if it wasn’t her neon suits, or her crazy hair, or the way she appreviated water with H20 because that was the only scientific thing she knew… she was the only teacher who single handedly motivated me to do my homework, to pay attention, and otherwise try not to let her down.
    And those memories and lessons have carried me all the way into graduate school.

    So thanks Neil for reminding me of my favorite teacher, and thanks to my 7-9th grade English/History/Drama teacher, Mrs. Compton for being so awesome!

  6. Thanks to Millie for sharing this website with me. As a semi-retired teacher I love hearing from “my kids”. Some call me Jackie and some still call me Mrs. Crowson. Can’t wait to get to the bookstore and pick up this “feel good” book. Also looking for a new “page turner” for my high schoolers.
    Love the comments, congratulations.

  7. Found your website through Cake Wrecks and I have to say that although I wasn’t a shy child (ever) I had one of these teachers,two actually. Jr. High was harsh for me, I was the “brain” and that opened me up to a lot of ridicule and torture from fellow students. Two teachers in my eigth grade year made life tolerable. Mrs. Renner, my reading teacher, made me feel like being smart wasn’t a curse. She praised me for reading well above my grade level and encouraged me to push myself. And my history teacher that year, who, I’m ashamed to say, I don’t remember the name of (I’m sure it will come to me at 4:00 this morning) befriended me. She would take me for ice cream ( we lived in a tiny town…500 people), talk to me, and she once gave me a teddy bear that had belonged to her when she was young. She gave me a safe harbor when I felt utterly alone. She too encouraged me to push myself and be proud of my intelligence. I have carried the lessons these teachers taught me through my life and it helped me not lose all sense of self. I will always be thankful for them.

  8. Reuniting with the long-lost favorite teacher is indeed pure AWESOME! It happened to me a few months ago with Mr. Larsen, my 8th grade math teacher. At no other time in my academic career was I able to do math beyond basic arithmetic or even want to participate in class. Well, years went by and we bumped into each other at a line at the movies the day before I started college, and he still remembered me! Then he found me again on Facebook and we occasionally geek over politics and music. Lost teachers FTW!

  9. “who’s inspirational talks fill you with the power to follow your dreams”

    who’s should be whose.
    This was the best post of them all, though!

  10. Another cake-wrecker here. :)

    I was never shy. NEVER. In fact, while I got good grades, every single one of my teachers put, “talks too much in class, needs to stay on task” in the little notes section of my report cards. :)

    But I too have had teachers who’ve made a difference in my life. I think it’s quite wonderful that not only did this teacher make a difference in your life, but that she remembered you after all the years and sought you out to congratulate you! That is so rare.

  11. I was just thinking about the teachers I had today! the ones that you always remember because they made school or college a great place. I remember many teachers who had inspired me in many ways and it awesome when you see them many years later and they still remember who you are…
    this post was really nice! it’s awesome! :)

  12. This one really touched me. I have a very strong memory of my grade 3 teacher. She was the best teacher I have ever had.

  13. Love this story :) Makes me think of 3 amazing teachers I had – one in grade 2, one for grades 7&8, another for grade 10.

  14. I’ve had many of “those” teachers. There are about four this year who just make me feel amazing and totally loved when I walk into their classrooms.

    To all of my amazing teachers, thank you.

    To all teachers everywhere, thank you.

  15. what are the odds. I also went to a sunset heights for grades k-5. For me, “that Theacher” is probibly my neighbor, Mike.

  16. Beautiful. If it wasn’t for some of my teachers during high school and even now in College, I probably wouldn’t have the same drive to succeed and certainly not the skills to.

  17. I taught for 34 years and loved each. Thanks so much for sharing your teacher stories. I was not shy when I met my favorite teachers: Miss Francesa Gulli, Sr. Victoria, Sr. Anna desales-each added to my life as I chose to be a teacher. Every year I added new friendships to my heart. The students I had made me grow as a person and now in retirement I find that each of my students are wonderful contributers to our society in their special ways. God Bless my students

  18. Great post Neil. Thanks Mrs. Mercer, Mr. Huddleston, and Prof. Lanham! You’ve all been truly influential in my life and career.

  19. I’ve hada few teachers who were at least somewhat like this. My 2nd grade teacher, who really helped pull me out of my shell and encouraged me to write. And now I have my art teacher, who I feel like has opened my eyes so much, and my history teacher, who had really just pushed me to be so much harder-working than I ever thoguht possible. They’re AWESOME!

  20. I’m just finishing/surviving my first year as a teacher – teaching third grade. My greatest hope for my career is that I will impact the life of one student this way – that someone will remember me as fondly as I remember my third grade teacher and you remember yours.

  21. I was introduced to your blog recently and I love it! I’m also working on my own 1000-project right now, so it’s really nice to see someone who’s been so successful with their own. :]

  22. The happiness project web site brought me to your blog, but it was your entry about “That Teacher” that brought me to tears.

    We’ve all had an awesome teacher in our lives, and opening up my eyes this morning to reflect upon these special people has been a wonderful reflection.

    I am particularly thankful for my son’s current teacher. It is awe-inspiring to watch your child grow before your eyes, and Mrs. Zenko is a big influence of that growth.

    Thank you Chris, and thank you Mrs. Zenko.

  23. As a teacher I always hope to feel that accomplishment one day in my future. I would love to meet past students and see where they have wound up. Thanks for thinking that teachers are awesome! It made my day!

  24. I was looking through the PostSecret web page, and saw the trailer for your book. First of all, congratulations! I can’t wait for it to hit stores in Canada so I can pick up a copy for myself.

    Second of all, thank you for posting this story. I was also one of those kids who was shy and didn’t really know how to interact with other people. My one teacher in grade school always encouraged me to keep trying things, and I always felt like she really understood me. After reading this, when I’m done my exams and head back home, I think I’ll go to my old elementary school and thank her.

    Thank you for reminding me that I should =3

  25. Yes! — I was shoving myself under tables, I was so shy! … and I’ve had so many such teachers / mentors / elders / aunties / etc. in my life … Oases of sanity and kindness, all of them :-)

  26. This is what makes being a teacher completely and totally worthwhile! All of the complaints that we have from time to time (pay, hours, expectations, curriculum) are more than made up for every time I think that there are hundreds of kids out there who might remember me forever!
    Just found out about 1000 Awesome Things (via PostSecret)… I love it already!

  27. My 4th grade teacher’s name was Mr. Azzato. He thought the best way to learn was to be interactive with things. So that year, we went on 75 field trips. Museums, farms, art galleries, concerts, plays, fish-hatcheries, pickle festivals…

    It was amazing. He showed us that “learning by the book” isn’t for everyone. Before this, I pretty much hated school. But he inspired in me what has become a lifelong appetite for learning.

  28. I was a teacher but left the classroom to “climb the ladder.” I miss it every single day…and want to go back. For three years, I have wondered how many opportunities were lost in the students I will never teacher. I have been looking for a sign to go back to the classroom…reason 525 is it.

  29. It’s surprising, I have a poor memory when it comes to most of my childhood, but I can fondly remember every single teacher and the experiences I had.

    I’m not sure what event in life triggered the teacher in me to come out and help other people, all I can say is that I’m truly thankful for each experience.

    To all the teachers out there, keep up the good work you’re changing many lives.

  30. I stumbled on your blog via PostSecret. As a 3rd grade teacher, I OFTEN wonder if what I do on a daily basis makes the slightest bit of difference in those under my wing. Reading this brought tears to my eyes, and inspired me to keep at it. Thank you so much for such an incredible blog post! And seeing all the concurring responses about those who have also been motivated and moved by a teacher has been just the uplift I needed today! :) Blessings to you all!

  31. Dear Neil,

    I’m currently a senior in high school enrolling in a highly regarded education program for the next four years. Ever since I was a little girl I had the dream of becoming an elementary school teacher. But, as I grew older, people made me doubt that dream. They told me being an elementary teacher was “too easy” for someone like me, and that I should be doing something “bigger” because I “had the ability to.” I was so sure that being an elementary school teacher was something that I wanted to do, but I began to question whether I should continue on this path or if I should enter a high-paying, corporate job in a big business, like everyone expected me to.

    Today, for the first time, I heard of your blog. I feel like my landing on your blog was like a sign from God (just another awesome thing) because I went on and the most recent entry is #525 “That Teacher.”

    I just wanted to let you know that your entry was confirmation enough that this is what I want to do. I want to be inspirational and influential on children. I want to push kids out of their shell. I want to be “That Teacher.”

    Thank you for helping me realize my dream.

    1. Emma … good for you for going for what you know will make you happy. I related to this, because the same happened to me.

      A few people (not my parents, luckily — they have always supported me doing whatever I needed in order to be happy) told me the same when I shared with them my plans for after high school. “But you have so much potential to do more than that!” I heard. Or, “With your smarts, you could do something more challenging, don’t you think?”

      It kind of sucks to have your dream challenged.
      You could do something that would make you more money.
      You could do something that would be “harder”.
      But if you’re not happy, what’s the point?

      Besides … if there’s one thing I’ve gotten out of reading these comments, it’s that people really do remember and appreciate their teachers. I’m so happy to read that you’re going to go after it and are giving yourself the opportunity to be “that teacher”.


  32. The teachers who have that type of impact on you are truly awesome! I had one of those in high school, and he is the reason I chose the major that I did in college. As I’m finishing up my senior thesis, I decided to put him in my acknowledgements and emailed him to let him know. I was surprised and happy to find out that he remembered me and that particular class!

  33. I hope everyone is lucky enough to have a special teacher mine was 2nd grade – Miss Lindell. I have written her as an adult to gush about how much she impacted on my life. This is the first day I have read your blog – what a great first day – I’ll be back!

  34. I have that teacher right now! 8th grade.
    actually, I have 3:
    Mr. Stephens – I had him for English last year and he was Amazing! It was the year when I first started to like English class because as a kid I always hated it. I was a really slow reader (and still am), so I hated reading (plus I can’t spell to save my life). This year, I’m lucky enough to have him again for Geometry.
    Mrs. Stephens – My current English teach, this is the year that I found out how much I LOVE English! How much I love reading, writing, and just looking up words in the dictionary! I discovered that I absolutely love to write essays and research papers and I’m good at it, too!
    Ms. Nevitt – My Art teacher. I’m in her class room every day. She has encouraged me so much and given me confidence that I can create art however I want. Most of all, I fell in love with painting abstract art in her class room! I used to be a drawer, but now I’m hooked to painting, and I’m never letting it go!

  35. I was most definitely always shy in school until middle school. All of the teachers I had made a great difference in my life! They all had that little thing that’s helped me a great deal.

    Oh and by the way, I love your blog SO MUCH. It’s fantastic! It always makes my day better. Thanks. I look forward to getting the book :o

  36. I absolutely love that you also, and I assume most of the adult population still refer to their old teachers as Mr/Mrs, regardless of age!

  37. Mr. Hunter-Inman my 4th grade teacher. I will never forget you. My parents always say I had a crush on you. What they don’t know is that in reality you were the first person to inspire me to rise above my surroundings. You saved my life. Sorry I changed my plans to become the first female president to pursue a career in crime scene and bio hazard clean up. But I did graduate a year and a half early from high school!Woot! woot!

  38. As a graduating education major this year, this is a very inspirational story. I hope to touch the life of just one student, and everything I’ve gone through in school and work will be worth it.

  39. My hand’s up! I was so shy as a little girl. I still find a little bit of that shyness in me today. I wouldn’t say “hi” to people I knew because I was afraid they would not say “hi” back. I was so shy!!! I remember I had a teacher like that in high school and he tried so hard to get me out of my shell but I was too embarrassed and would not be outgoing on purpose.

    I think it’s great that you had a teacher who inspired you so. I love it when elementary school teachers actually like interacting with kids and are good-natured ; why else would they teach kids, then?

  40. Awesome post – I totally relate. Shout outs to some of the very few great ones I had – Mr. Amero, Mr. Bate, Professors Locke and Eves. These people changed my life, for sure.

    As an adjunct instructor at a local college, I know it is not possible to reach everyone. The percentage of students I can really get to is probably the same as the percentage of teachers who got to me. While I would like to have that effect on them all, I reach the ones I can, and hope others will reach the rest.

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