Years ago, I wanted to write my AP English essay about Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, but didn’t have a copy of the book. My teacher gave me his copy by crossing out his name and writing mine. Even though it has fallen apart into two, that book remains on my shelf as a cherished possession.

Photo Feb 19, 6 44 11 PM

This week, I finally got to pay it forward. A student of mine has read almost everything considered dystopian. Early in the year, I told her to save the classic Fahrenheit 451 for our literature circles. We finished those up this week, and as students were turning in the books they borrowed from me, she was reluctant to give hers up. I found out that she had meticulously placed sticky notes all throughout the book and was wishing she had bought her own copy. It was clear that she had enjoyed the analysis of the story.

After school, I asked her to bring me the book. I opened the front cover and wrote her name, from Mrs. Lancy.

Her face was totally worth it.

It may seem like such a small thing, but I had been waiting for years (about 10, actually) to be able to give a student a book in that way. It’s such a precious gift, you see, because it’s more than “just” a book that a student likes.

I had spent hours pouring through Dillard’s book, absorbing and analyzing it, writing and rewriting drafts of that essay to get it perfect. This student dug into Bradbury’s book with that same tenacity and critical thinking, enjoying every ┬áminute of it. No student of mine has ever embraced that novel with as much enthusiasm she did. (Heck, I didn’t either when I had to read it for English 101 as a freshman in college!)

If you’ve never given a book to a student, look for the opportunity. If you’re lucky, she’ll thank you ten times in a row with the promise she’ll keep it forever. It’s worth it.

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After thinking about that moment, I reflected on the impact that my teacher, Mr. Hiskes, had on me (and I suspect on many other students). His bio on the Holland Christian High School webpage sums up his teaching philosophy well:

“As much as possible I try to shape my classroom to be the kind of place I want the world to be– a community where people can be comfortable and encouraged, accepted for who they were created to be, gracious in their words and actions, challenged to think outside the box, and challenged to do good work. After about 30 years of teaching, I can say that I love students even more than I love good books and writing, and that is a lot. They will know that after leaving my class.”

It gives me chills reading this, because it reflects so much of my personal philosophy of teaching. I may have 25 more years before I can figure it all out, but I hope that my students already know I love them (even more than I love good books and writing).

As Henry Adams said, “a teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” Thank you, Mark Hiskes, for your influence.

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