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Thanks, Mr. Thornton

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“Still waters do run deeply!” So wrote my eighth-grade English teacher on a paper I turned in, and it’s the only comment I remember from my entire twelve years of primary schooling. I was proud of it. I don’t remember what the paper was about (though I think it was a fictional story), and I’m not sure I fully appreciated the comment at the time, but I sure do now, 35 years later. Back then, I saw the remark as a compliment along the lines of “there’s more to you than meets the eye.” While there also seemed to be an inherent criticism lurking in there – “you’re too reserved” – I knew the teacher understood my verbal reticence, and was now trumpeting it as endemic to my written expressiveness. Perhaps it was the first time I felt understood as an introvert, and valued for my introspection. Perhaps it was his comment that encouraged my future writing, though it would be many years before I would fully embrace my preference for quiet and solitude. I was horrified to learn that he committed suicide several years later, and I can only wonder what inner demons he was wrestling. But the fact that his words were so salient underscores how important a teacher’s encouragement can be to a student who feels misunderstood.

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