Searching for Mr. Henry

Updated: Oct 17, 2020

NOTE: This article first published in The Bluffton Sun, August 2013

A7E8GA DEAD POETS SOCIETY Robin Williams in the 1989 Warner film

I had an amazing English teacher in high school. Although I graduated more than 20 years ago, I still think of Mr. Henry and the other teachers I had.  


In line at a Starbucks recently, I struck up a conversation with two girls. They looked to be about middle school age, enjoying their last weeks of summer like me, a teacher on her way back to the classroom for another school year.  I asked if they were ready. They said they were, adding that they hoped to get a certain teacher for homeroom. When they told me her name I knew her because my son goes to their school.  


As we continued our conversation, they mentioned another teacher they both had in previous years. She yelled often, embarrassing students and made them dread school.  

As I left the girls, I found myself thinking about Mr. Henry.  It is truly amazing the power that a teacher, good or bad, has over her students.  A good teacher like Mr. Henry has the ability to encourage and motivate as well as making class interesting and fun.  Mr. Henry taught English by telling stories.  Somehow, I never remember the work that we were assigned.  I just remember the stories he told, the lessons he taught, and the interesting projects that he assigned that had us working even on the weekends to complete.  


He was funny, entertaining, and strict.  He used to write notes in the margins on our essays to make us feel special.  He wrote on my papers, be a teacher, we need you. I worked harder with every assignment, anticipating his feedback. I also remember another teacher I had in high school that saw me struggling with Math.  She must have felt exasperated with me when she said, you’ve got a pretty face- you don’t really need to learn this, anyway.  It’s funny how I remember her words but not her name.  I remember feeling small, stupid, and most of all insignificant to her.  


As an adult who became a mother, teacher, and writer I realized the positive influence that one teacher had on my life and felt the need to thank Mr. Henry.  For years I tried to find him through Google and Facebook, but I had no luck.  Meanwhile, I try to remember that when I get frustrated with a student my words carry so much weight, so I choose carefully.  


I find myself hoping that my son will have a teacher like Mr. Henry so that he can experience someone besides his own family pulling for him and believing in him.  While other teachers passed me over as average, Mr. Henry saw something in me that made me push myself to the next level.  I wanted to let him know that I model my teaching style after his and that there isn’t a student in my classes who hasn’t heard about him.  I wanted him to know that the project I loved best in his class is the one that I have taught my students for the past ten years.  


My mom called recently to tell me that she ran into a coach that used to teach at my high school.  He’s good friends with Mr. Henry and has his email address.  Mr. Henry is retired now, probably in his 60’s.  I can’t wait to write to him.  I have so much to tell him, so much to thank him for.  I want him to know what he meant to me.  I will tell him that I remember almost every word of the speech he gave at our graduation and that when the song he referenced in that speech comes on the radio, it brings tears to my eyes.  I was too shy to say thanks back then, but not anymore.  My email will probably start with, Dear Mr. Henry, you probably don’t remember me, but I remember you.


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