A word for your teacher on Facebook

Last Updated 14 July 2010, 15:01 IST

About 18 months ago she hit the jackpot. “Nice to see one of the greatest teachers of all time on Facebook!” Thompson wrote on D’Addario’s wall. “I love to go to your page just to see your smiling face. Even your eyes still smile. You are an amazing person!”
D’Addario was Thompson’s Advanced Placement history teacher at Walt Whitman High School in Huntington Station, on Long Island, in 1977.

“She had such a huge impact on my life as a young adult,” Thompson said, describing her tumultuous teenage years living with two alcoholic parents and experiencing early symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

“I was depressed and so sad and so isolated, and she reached out and saved me,” Thompson added. “Facebook gave me the chance to tell her, ‘You’re the one who pulled me through.’ ”

At a time when public school teachers are being blamed for everything from poor test scores to budget crises, Facebook is one place where they are receiving adulation, albeit delayed.

The site has drawn more attention as a platform for adolescent meanness and bullying, and as a vehicle for high school and college students to ruthlessly dissect their teachers. But people who are 20, 30 or 40 years beyond graduation are using Facebook to re-establish relationships with teachers and express gratitude and overdue respect.

Emotions displayed
On Facebook walls and dedicated tribute pages, the writings betray emotions that students dared not display in their youth. They include moving messages (“You inspired each of us to learn and go beyond what we thought we could achieve”), lighthearted claims on old debts (“You owe us a pool party — you promised us one if the Dow ever reached 3,000”) and recollections of specific events (“You got me out of detention one time”).

In the weeks before the death last month of Jerry Sheik, a retired band teacher from Intermediate School 70 in Chelsea, his wife, Judith Kalina, said he was overwhelmed by the praise written on a Facebook page created in his honor, “Sheik’s Freaks Reunite: A Celebration for Jerry Sheik.”

The page has 135 members, mostly students from the 1970s who played in the stage band Sheik conducted. One former student, Melissa Sgroi, wrote, “There are few people that you look back on in your life and know they left an indelible mark. Thank you Jerry Sheik for being one of those people.”

Across the Hudson River in New Jersey, another music teacher inspired the page “Winston Hughes — Best Chorus Teacher Ever.” Hughes was surprised to learn that such a page existed. “I had no idea about this,” said Hughes, 76, who retired from Edison High School in 1996. “I knew that I had impact, but I never knew the impact was as large as the writings I’ve read.”

The tributes underscore what researchers have identified as a major force in adolescents’ lives, said Jacqueline Ancess, a researcher at Teachers College at Columbia University. “The most powerful factor in transforming students is a relationship with a caring teacher who a kid feels particularly connected to,” said Dr Ancess.

Bill Chemerka, 64, who was a history teacher at Madison High School in New Jersey for 29 years, said he did not know what Facebook was until a student pointed him to the 455-member “Mr Chemerka Fan Club” page. He found this message: “Your love of history and teaching oozed from your pores and allowed every student to absorb your knowledge and passion for life and history.”

Sheldon Jacobowitz, 68, said he was delighted about his Facebook connection with roughly 200 former students from New Utrecht High School in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. “How they make you feel that you were so important in their lives — it makes everything worthwhile,” he said.

The New York Times

(Published 14 July 2010, 15:01 IST)

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