Favorite Teacher

One of my favorite quotes is by the wonderful Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Nothing captures more aptly what I think of Ken Clauser, my high school Spanish teacher for three years. When I think back to Wheeler School, what I remember most dearly is Señor Clauser. From the classroom to the stage (he brilliantly portrayed the King of Siam in our school production of The King & I), his passion and compassion was genuinely inspiring and memorable. 

In a testament to his superb teaching, I never studied Spanish beyond high school, yet I can speak the language with my kids as they have learned it, as well as with my sister when we’re drinking mojitos. Admittedly, some phrases indelibly imprinted on my brain — “aplastando las caracoles” comes to mind — won’t get me especially far when visiting a Spanish-speaking country! But the usefulness of what Señor taught me has been invaluable, and the spirit and playfulness that filled his classroom still fills my heart to this day.

Beyond any other teacher, he helped me to become a more enthusiastic, engaged learner. His unwavering support gave me the confidence to try things and fail and pick myself up and try again. He knew when I was phoning it in, and he inspired me to hold myself to a higher standard. His kindness and humanness always made me feel comfortable, welcome and happy in his classroom. And he modeled that fact that, as Mary Poppins insists, in every job that must be done there is an element of fun.  

I was thrilled to run into Ken a few weeks ago, after probably 15 or 20 years. He still pronounced my name “AHHHN-drea,” which made me smile. It was awesome to get a big hug and chat for a while about current Broadway shows and life in general, although he was a little freaked out that all four of my kids are older than I was when he was my teacher!

As a happiness coach, I know that one of the most powerful exercises you can do is to write a letter of gratitude to someone who has had a profound effect on your life. For some reason, though, I have just never been moved to write one. Sure, I’m grateful to a lot of people in my life, but not to the point where I really felt the need to sit down and share a little of my soul. Seeing Ken changed that. The very next morning, I woke up and handwrote a gratitude letter to the fantastic teacher who had had such a lasting impact on my life, and I gave it to him. It was easy to do, and it made me feel so happy to remember how capable and empowered he made the teenage me – a fairly insecure, underconfident ugly duckling – feel. That’s a pretty special teacher — someone who not only inspired me to be a better student back then, but inspired me to be a more authentic happiness coach today.

It was a privilege to be one of Ken Clauser’s first Wheeler students, and the experience has resounded joyfully for nearly 35 years now. As I concluded my gratitude letter, “I consider that a most precious lifelong gift, and for that — and for you — I am unimaginably grateful.”

Do you have a favorite teacher who made a positive impression on you?

My next birthday is the big 5-0, and rather than approaching it with dread, I decided to have some fun by doing a weekly countdown revisiting some of my favorite memories and things from the past 49+ years. #50FavesTo50

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