Paper Trail| September 20, 2022
I pulled out the plastic container that held notes I’d received from my students over the years
One Friday night, my husband returned from shul to find me deep in thought.
“Would you look at some students’ notes with me after the seudah?” I asked him.
Surprisingly, he agreed. (What self-respecting male doesn’t fall asleep after or even during the meal?) I think he felt sorry for me.
We ate, bentshed, and settled into the couch. I pulled out the plastic container that held notes I’d received from my students over the years. Sometimes the notes accompanied mishloach manos, some came at the end of the year. A few were given for no occasion, just a student reaching out to a teacher.
I began pulling out notes at random.
A yellow-lined card given at graduation: Mrs. B., you made us feel like we are the only ones that count, and we are the only ones you are busy with. Your desire for us to be true bnos Yisrael comes through your classes of how we can grow to be true ovdei Hashem.
A Hallmark card, given at the end of the year: Your classes were always so practical and relevant to us. You always showed how much you care and it really made me feel good.
A long, typed letter describing the struggles of being a teen: You’re so real. You’re so spiritual, yet at the same time so normal and fun to be with. I want to be like you.
At this point, my husband started dozing off, but I kept reading.
A purple sticky note: Dear Mrs. B., there is this warm feeling that I get when I remember your classes. That feeling will never be lost, even when years pass and the knowledge is forgotten.
A crisp white card: Thank you for caring about us. Not every teacher cares about their students as much as you do.
It was only two months after I left my position as a high school teacher for 20 years. The atmosphere had become too toxic for me, and I could no longer do that which I loved most — supporting and inspiring my beloved students. How could I support when I was not being supported?
After a particularly disturbing interaction with the administration, I made the difficult decision to leave. My husband agreed that I had no choice, but he asked me to give it a few days. I gave it a few weeks before handing in my resignation.
My heart fought back. I mourned my loss all summer. I also felt lost — it disappeared so fast.
As I read through the notes I’d saved, something inside me eased. I could look back at those special relationships and know that even though I had to leave, I had touched and impacted lives. Those slips of paper are tangible proof that what I contributed will exist forever.
It still hurts, but whenever I feel like connecting to that place, I reach for my container of notes and settle into my couch — and salvage the beauty from the pain.
Tova Bendel is the pen name of a high school teacher in the United States.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 929)
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