A student I had many years ago tried to find me through Oprah. Then came Facebook and she contacted me to tell me the difference I had made in her life when I was her fifth grade teacher. She has given me permission to post her contact to thank me.
Hi Carol, I wanted to forward this letter to you. This is a letter that I wrote to Oprah in the hopes that she would find you and provide me an opportunity to thank you (before the days of Facebook). Making sure you knew what a wonderful and positive influence you were during a very dark time is something has always been on my "bucket list". So, here it goes...
I know that you honor teachers who have gone above and beyond in providing support to their students. I began this letter three years ago and when I heard that 2010 would be your last year, I realized I had to send my story about such a teacher.
In 1976 my mother passed away after a horrible struggle with pancreatic cancer. I was 10 yrs old and during the time she was ill and the time following, my family fell apart. My father was not around and my mother was a single parent and while she certainly was not a great mother when she was healthy, her death made a sad situation even worse.
I was born into a middle class family of six children making me the youngest of seven. Around the time I turned 5 my parents began fighting, horrible, physical fights fueled by alcoholism. Soon they separated and my father disappeared, and my older siblings moved. I ended up living alone with my mother in a dilapidated flat next to a prostitution house in a less than ideal part of town. The alcohol and cancer diagnosis consumed her and I learned to become self sufficient.
During her illness, I was in 5th grade attending Selby Lane School in Atherton, CA. Selby Lane was located in an affluent area and I was one of the kids bussed in from “the other side of the tracks”. Surrounded by such affluence, with a dying mother, I found myself not belonging. I became an introvert and delved into my schoolwork. I was blessed at the time to have Carol Noren as my teacher. She was young without a family and took me under her wing. I don’t recall much of that year but I do remember how she would bring me to her cozy apartment after school and work with me to get through the assignments. For the first time in years, I felt I had an advocate. She spent hours outside of school providing a safe haven.
After time out of school when my mother died, I returned to a “Welcome Back Emily” banner with signatures and pictures from my classmates. Always flying under the radar, I felt overwhelmed with love and support. In retrospect I am sure that I should not have passed 5th grade based on attendance alone, as I spent much of the year at the hospital. Fortunately for me, Ms. Noren recognized that I was a bright student in a dark place and holding me back would not have benefited me in any way.
I then finished the 5th grade and moved to another city with one of my sisters. Time passed and it wasn’t until I had my own children and recognized the gift she gave me. Now that I have school aged children, I see how the influence of strong and loving teachers can make all the difference in the world and being a parent, I find the need to locate and thank her imperative. Saying that Ms. Noren “went above and beyond” is a great understatement. I have no idea where she is as that was over 35 yrs ago. I do know her influence and love kept me on the straight and narrow, not wanting to veer down the wrong path.
Oprah, I hope that you can help me in celebrating her warmth and compassion and let her know that she did a make a difference-a very big difference. Thank you for taking the time to hear my story.