08 May

Teacher Appreciation By Annie Sullivan

In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week (May 6-10), we at Blink want to thank each person who works in the education profession. We know the work you do isn’t always easy; however, the impact you have can be life-changing.

In an effort to honor those who have shaped and molded us, each day this week will feature a special blog post from a Blink author about a teacher—or teachers—who had a profound impact in their life.

To all those working in the education field—thank you for believing in us when we didn’t know how to believe in ourselves. We value and admire the work that you do!

Teacher Appreciation By Annie Sullivan

Teachers can make all the difference in what students grow up to be, and I can honestly say I wouldn’t have written my new book Tiger Queen if it weren’t for the influence of my middle school English teacher, Mrs. Desautels. I also wouldn’t have my job as copywriter for a publishing company without her grammar instruction either.

Mrs. Desautels taught me all about comma splices and run-on sentences and where commas needed to go in each sentence—all skills I’ve needed as I’ve taken on the role of a professional writer. She taught me all the things that would become the very foundation of the writings that would give me the title of author. Her tests were hard but fair, and she was determined that we would all be excellent grammarians someday.

Yet, she gave each student more than just instruction and facts and figures to learn. She challenged us to think about things in new ways. And no example stands out more vividly in my mind then the day she decided to teach a short story called “The Lady, or the Tiger.” This story is infamous for its cliffhanger ending, and Mrs. Desautels challenged us to decide how the story actually ended based on the information we were given in the story.

But the problem is, there is no right or wrong answer to this cliffhanger. There are seemingly two options—either of which could be correct. And I will never forget Mrs. Desautels standing there asking us for the answer because, for perhaps what felt like the first time in my life, I couldn’t answer the question the teacher had posed. She’d stumped me. And in stumping me, she’d unknowingly ignited something within me that wouldn’t rest until I discovered the answer to that age-old question asked in the short story.

But what was the answer? She made it clear that the answer wasn’t obvious, that she wanted us to decide for ourselves. She didn’t give us answers; we had to earn them. We had to drill down deep into the literature and excavate the plots if we wanted the answers.

And as students, we did just that. Yet, some students may have read the story a few times and decided there was no way to know which of the two possible outcomes would have occurred at the end of the short story, but I wasn’t one of those students. I was determined to find out the answer.

Only, how can you find out the answer to a question when the only person who conceivably knew the answer (if there ever truly even was a right answer) died in 1902?

It seems like an impossible task. I did, however, discover how the short story ended, or perhaps it’s more accurate to say I discovered how I think it should have ended all along. It only took me writing Tiger Queen, my own retelling of that story, to come up with the answer that had eluded me for so long.

But that’s the power of a good teacher. He or she can inspire the imaginations of students and make them quest for knowledge—knowledge that may not even exist yet. They can give them the space to explore the seemingly impossible and come back with questions and theories as they search for truth.

Moreover, they can take young minds and introduce them to stories and lessons that will not only shape their paths in life, but also their beliefs about the world. Teachers have more power than any magical character I’ve ever written because teachers hold the keys to knowledge, to imagination, and to sparking creativity in a child’s life.

Teachers may not always get the thanks they deserve or realize how much of an impact they can have on their students. But I’m proof that a teacher choosing one specific short story changed my life. “The Lady, or the Tiger” was the story I needed to hear. But there are countless other stories out there that some other student needs. It could be one that deals with dealing with grief or overcoming a bully or simply one that doesn’t have a perceivable ending. Whatever the story is, teachers are influencing and guiding the next generation with what they present in their classrooms today.

Mrs. Desautels changed my life that day in the classroom by planting that seed—that question—that story—in my mind. And I’m so thankful for her and thousands of teachers like her who are out there every day changing the lives of students. Without each and every teacher, the world would be a much darker place. So thank you to all teachers for all you have done and continue to do as you shape the next generation.