Ode to Educators

Earlier this year I wrote what I called an “ode to educators.” I wrote it in a notebook – as I usually do. I scribbled it out in my scratchy handwriting. I read and reread it. I liked what I saw. At the time I wasn’t in the habit of sharing my writing, so that piece lives in that notebook. It is housed within its binding and encased in a chest in a storage unit in Amsterdam. It is miles and miles from where I am today (currently: Hanoi).

Today I’m writing a new one. An ode to educators 2.0. I’m writing it because it’s something I feel a deep desire to share. It’s something I enjoy thinking about; something I’d like for us all to think about a little more often.

I have spent many years in school. Kindergarten, elementary, middle and high school, then three university programs – because evidently I hadn’t had enough. In these years I have been graced with many, many individuals who have helped shape my mind. They have taken the time to teach me things. Motor skills, stacking blocks. Forming letters, sounding out vowels. They have showed me countries on the globe, explained the anatomy of a leaf. They’ve taught me how to read legal texts, how to try to understand the psychology of my own self. They’ve taught me how to express myself in text, speech, sound, color.

These people have helped me discover my talents. They have helped me foster my passions. They have guided me.

Now before I continue, don’t get me wrong. I have been blessed with parents who have been ever-present. Parents who have helped me develop those same motor skills and showed me how to stack blocks. Parents who have practiced my formation of letters and who jump started my sounding out of vowels. I am deeply grateful to my parents. However.

I feel a deep need to acknowledge the countless individuals who have helped shape me over the years. Individuals who have, out of their own passion for their field, had patience with me as I stumbled – or any time I got distracted. Individuals who have explained and explained concepts over and over any time I had a question. Individuals who had patience with me when my questioning never ceased. She can be stubborn too, you see.

These people have been my many educators and it is my belief that I owe them a debt of gratitude.

I am deeply grateful to them for the time they have invested in shaping me.

I am very aware that my experience with educators comes from a certain place of privilege. I have had the privilege of receiving an education. I have had the privilege of being given the space to tap into talents, the space to pursue passions. I have had the privilege of generally coming across educators who have been passionate themselves; educators who have been invested in me – in us.

I do believe, however, that there are many of us who enjoy these same privileges and yet at times perhaps forget to pay homage to that.

So here it is. An ode to my own educators.

I could regale you with stories and memories, I could. But I think most of you would stop reading, so I won’t.

I will say this: I have a memory of you. All these years later, I remember the time you took out of your life; your time that you gifted to me. I will admit that perhaps I don’t remember the country you taught me to find on the map, or the equation you painstakingly helped me to understand. I might not remember all the steps in a process or the right rules and their application. But I do remember you.

And for you and your time, I am ever grateful.

I’m sure you’re wondering why this is on my mind again all these months later. Why, when on a long term backpacking trip I am digging this all up. Why I feel the need to write this second homage.

The context can be found in Yangon, but really it began roughly 17 years ago.

You see when I was 10 years old (or was it 11? I did say “roughly”), I found myself in a new music class. My new music teacher was, in my eyes, an absolute trailblazer. She was vivacious, a go-getter, and she could make a group of children sing just about anything. She was also kind, and for a new kid, this felt like a safe space.

When I met her I didn’t know much more than that. I knew I liked the class, but I had no idea of just how much she would gift me.

You see she eventually picked me out and asked me whether I would be interested in learning how to sing. “And I mean really sing,” she said.

And so she did. Over the next 8 years, she helped me tap into one of my biggest loves.

There is a special (and beautiful) debt of gratitude there.

7 years ago, I went home during my university’s holiday break. I visited my high school – I’d made a habit of it, really – and beelined for the music department. During a walk across campus I was told that she would likely be moving to Myanmar.

“Oh no. I’ll miss seeing you both,” I said. I followed with a “if I ever make it to the area, I’ll come find you.”

That is the reason why now, all these years later, I knew.

I simply have to go to Yangon.

And so I did. I booked a return flight –a quick pop in and out– enough time for the three of us to spend some time together. Enough time, I hoped, to catch up.

As fate would have it, there was a concert during the time I was there. I arrived at school and took my place in the auditorium. Nostalgia creeping in.

The students were jittery in their seats. They clutched their sheet music and their instruments. I’m sure their palms are sweaty.

As the music eventually crescendoed, so did my memories. I was 4 years old again, being taught games in kindergarten. I was 7, being given extra vocabulary words because I loved words so much. I was 10, being told I could sing. 12 learning about geography, 14 algebra, 15 literature, 16 photosynthesis, 17 the Cold War, 19, 20, 21, 24, 25, 27, stop.

The memories are dancing across the auditorium now. Different aged Nicoles twirling ’round to Copacabana.

I have had many educators invest their time in shaping me as a person, and I am immensely grateful to them for that. I am also grateful for our continued contact; I am grateful to be able to share in their lives as they have shared in mine.

I am grateful that while we live in the memories of our shared pasts, it is still possible to come together and create new ones for our future.

And that is why I do things like visit my old high school. It’s why I attend reunions. It’s why sometimes, when the opportunity presents itself, I will cross borders so we may meet again.

It is also the reason why, more than anything, I want to say thank you.

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