Fourth Grade Forethought

Written by
Published on May 12, 2023

Dear Bernadette,

Although during our time together I referred to you as Mrs. Gaul, I knew you as Bernadette. Some teachers, especially at the elementary level, might consider it disrespectful for a student to call them by their first name, but you considered it an honor. That’s because you knew that names had power. Within every name lies an identity, and when you exchanged names with me, you taught me to have no shame in the one that I possessed.

Insecurity ran rampant in my antisocial mind. I was a child with unconventional interests and classmates who were less than friendly to those who they didn’t perceive as normal. At our school, the state of the social environment was common knowledge to every adult in the building, but you were the only one who was willing to do something more than just feign ignorance. When you looked at the outcast that I was, you were kind enough to see past that label. You weren’t interested in my rough presentation or my bad attitude, you were interested in who I was underneath it all. You were interested in seeing what I was capable of, and you were determined to fight to give me an opportunity to rise to new heights and show the world what my realized potential looked like.

It didn’t take long for you to figure out that I had a non-verbal communication style. You were attentive and watched my every move. Despite the challenges that came with learning my unique language of stares, you weren’t deterred. If deciphering my codes meant you could accommodate my needs and enable me to find value in your classroom, it was an easy decision for you to accept the task. After a few weeks of school, you discovered my affinity for words. My attraction to phrases, sentences, and syntax was nearly obsessive, and you thought that was amazing. Even though I couldn’t see it, you recognized that writing words on paper was a way for me to exist outside of myself, one word at a time, and slowly attune to my own identity. You were the first and last person to gift me a dictionary. To this day it is one of the greatest gifts I have ever received. Your gift allowed me to lose myself in a vast ocean of new lingual possibilities, growing my vocabulary while simultaneously expanding the degrees of precision and accuracy with which I could express myself and my ideas. You managed to give me tools and a sandbox in which I could play with them. You relished my exploration of the world of writing and prompted me at every turn to do something that both excited and enriched me.

A dense wall of text littered with numbers, symbols, descriptors, or a beacon guiding me to the wonders of education? Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash

You found a way for me to find success, develop a taste for it, and learn to love seeking it out in a classroom environment. You did this by showing pride in me, sharing my work, and helping me project the voice that lay dormant within my written words by speaking in my stead. You guided me to my greatest passion: sharing what I’ve learned with the world. That passion alone has inspired me to keep learning so that I can keep sharing and keep connecting with people. In a way, you helped me make up for all the time that was wasted before I was ready to use what you bestowed on me. Your influence helped me see what you saw in me all those years ago and finally utilize the power of my identity, an identity I couldn’t have developed without you.

Truly, thank you for everything,

Larry Ferguson