Should I freeze my teacher out?

My teacher has been like a father figure to me, but I’m graduating soon. Should I go cold on him to make leaving high school easier? Or give him a letter to say how much he has helped me?

Please repay his kindness with appreciation, not coldness, says our elder.

Dear EWC

So I have a teacher that I have really connected to. I’m a senior in high school and I’ve had dad issues. The teacher has become kind of like a father figure for me. He always asks what is wrong when he sees there is something wrong, and I can talk to him about anything. We’ll just sit in his classroom and have deep conversations for hours at a time. I know he is my teacher and I’m graduating this spring so I’ll be gone and it makes me really sad because I feel like I have relied on him so much and he’s been like a dad. He’s also been having some personal problems lately too (which I have no clue about — he doesn’t talk about that stuff which makes sense because I am just his student). I wrote a letter to him (I haven’t given it to him yet) saying how he has really impacted me and I hope he understands how many of his students really rely on him and come to him for their problems and that he is so kind. I don’t know if that seems like I’m sucking up to him too much or crossing a line or it’s just childish to give him a letter. I really want people to know how I feel and I hate seeing people hurting; I’m very empathetic.

I just don’t know if I should grow my connection with this teacher just for me to leave in the spring and never see him ever again or if I should just get my distance and become cold to make it easier to leave high school. Also should I give him the letter or should I just rip it up because its just childish and kinda stupid? I mean there’s a few other kids that have strong connections with him too so what difference does it make if I become cold? Does he care about me or will he just concentrate on the other kids if I stop talking to him?

Willow replies

I’ve read your letter several times, and your caring nature and gratitude toward this teacher jumped off the page. I’ll be happy to share my thoughts based on what you’ve written.

Everyone needs someone in their lives who is always there for them, who will listen when they need to be heard and provide guidance when it’s warranted. You indicate this teacher has provided all those things for you and given you the father figure that was lacking in your life. As I’m sure you are aware, you are lucky indeed to have such a supportive teacher. It sounds like he has given freely of his time, wisdom and attention when you needed it. You say he has really impacted you, and that is priceless.

Good teachers go into education because they want to make a positive impact in their students’ lives. It means a lot to them when a student lets them know that their efforts beyond the classroom are appreciated and they’ve made a difference. In my opinion, it would be terribly cruel for you to become distant and cold to this person who has done so much for you. If he didn’t truly care about you he would not have invested so much time in helping you. He would notice if you turned cold; no amount of interaction with other students would change that. From what you’ve written, it seems to me he deserves to have his kindness and consideration repaid with thoughtfulness and appreciation, not coldness. While you may feel some sort of separation from him might make your transition from high school easier emotionally, please think about what effect sudden coldness would have on him. Put yourself in his shoes. He would likely feel hurt, confused, unappreciated. He might feel all the time he’d spent listening to and supporting you was misplaced. Perhaps your rejection might make him less likely to reach out to other students who really need his mentoring. I suspect it wouldn’t actually make your transition out of high school easier, either. On the contrary, as an empathetic person it’s entirely possible you could feel guilty for causing him hurt and be uncomfortable or awkward around him for the rest of the year. Please don’t do that to him, or to yourself.

In my opinion, it is never wrong to let someone know they’ve made a positive difference in your life. Whether you communicate your thanks via a letter or verbally, showing gratitude is never childish or stupid. As you note, it’s important not to cross a line and in this case, crossing a line would include statements that were romantic, sexual or too personal in nature. From the details in your letter, I don’t get the sense this is anything close to what you want to express. I suspect he would be very happy to know he has made a difference in your life by listening, being available and being supportive during your high school years. There’s no need to be gushy or over the top, but a straightforward and sincere thanks is very appropriate. And “people” don’t need to know how you feel. This is strictly between you and your teacher.

I like the idea of a letter for two reasons: one, you can choose your words and edit so you express exactly what you want to say in the way you want to say it; and two, your teacher will have those words of gratitude to read over and over again. And he will.

However you choose to express yourself, I would recommend you wait until the end of the school year. You’re right to not want him to feel you’re sucking up, which he might with some of the school year left. You will probably have other interactions with him during your remaining time in high school, and I assume you’re thanking him each time he helps you out. A letter that summarizes what he’s done for you over your entire high school career (once his ability to grade you on anything is over) seems like a good way to go out on a high note with him. You might also include something that says you hope you can keep in touch with him after graduation if that’s what you’d like to do. I would not be surprised if he gladly agrees.

I hope my perspective on your letter has been of help to you.

Letter #: 451245
Category: School

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