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A half-century later, he found his teacher

Last week I received a message on my cellphone. “This is Steve F. I’m looking for Connie M. I took a class from her at Foothill College in 1965, and I’d like to find her to tell her what a difference she made in my life. If you are Connie M. and taught at Foothill College, please call me back. Even if you’re not, I’d appreciate the call.” And he gave a 541 number.

After thinking about it for a few days, I called back. I had taught English at Foothill College during that time, and we chatted for about 45 minutes, exchanging some of what had gone on in our lives during the last 50-some years.

After he had flunked out of bonehead English, he asked around for a good teacher, got my name, and enrolled in my class. On the first day, he told me, I had written a list of 20 topics on the chalk board and told the students to bring back an essay on one of them to the next class meeting.

When he received his paper back, there was only one mark on it. A sentence had been circled in red and in the margin were these words: “effective use of sentence fragment.” He had no idea what a sentence fragment was, but the comment seemed complimentary, so he stayed in the class. He earned a B that term and went on to take English 1A from me and earned an A. He told me he learned a powerful lesson: that a positive comment is much more effective than a negative one. It made him want to do better. He had received plenty of negative comments in the past and always thought he hated writing. Now he rather liked it. I told him I had learned a lesson too. I soon switched to green for marking papers, as red marks were too bloody.

Steve went on to earn his bachelor’s degree, then a master’s, and, later, a Ph.D. He has several publications to his credit and has taught in various schools around the world. Now he’s teaching creative writing through an online university in Norway.

He had been trying to locate me on and off for 20 years. I had made such a difference in his life he wanted to thank me. He had even hired a private investigator at one point. But I had moved a lot, lived for many years out of the country, and my last name was no longer M. Eventually he ran into a lady whose job was hunting down alumni of various universities in order to enlist donations. I don’t know what tools she used, but she was able to give him several leads, and I was one.

He and his wife are coming to see me next week. In the meantime, he is reading my memoir, which he ordered from Amazon, and I’m looking forward to meeting him and hearing the rest of his story.

Connie Kent lives in Medford.

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