Haslett Teachers: Be Open to Emotional Intimacy

More stories from Lee Izzo

Photo: Cameron Sandstedt

I’ve had an affinity for creating personal relationships with teachers I look up to for as long as I can remember.
My sophomore year English teacher, Jan Shoemaker, was more a mother to me than my own biological one was in terms of emotional support and love. Our closeness began with a reflective essay I had written for her American Literature class, in which I depicted my loneliness, my feelings of isolation and how poorly I was handling my situation at home. She pulled me aside after class one day, placing her hand comfortingly on my shoulder, and asked how I was feeling in a deeply compassionate tone.
Shoemaker, who retired last year, was so receptive to what I needed at the time, and never once did she make me feel like I was burdening her with my problems or feelings. She was always quick to validate my identity, always pushed me to be unapologetically me, and that was incredibly important to me, shaping me into who I am today.
“To brilliant, sensitive, remarkable Lee.” Shoemaker wrote on the title page of her book Flesh and Stones: Field Notes From a Finite World. “ What a pleasure it’s been! I wish you every joy!”
I can name so many authority figures in my life who talk about being supportive and dependable for students, but don’t actually make an effort to make a significant emotional connection. I never would have been able to open up to Shoemaker about my problems had she not already expressed an interest in my wellbeing prior to my reflective essay. I wouldn’t have trusted her to be a safe person to speak with about those problems, regardless of my admiration for her.
If anything, the fact I looked up to her as a person made the experience more intimidating. I was able to find the courage to do so because she proved to me throughout the year that she truly cared about her students.
“Lee – courage, work, and love – in whatever order. That’s a life. Love, Jan.”
Thirteen words written to me in The Reliquary Earth, her book of poetry published two years ago. This was a reminder to never forget the words of encouragement she had given me in the three short years I was taught by her. A reminder that I am deserving of success, care and validation. A reminder that I am worthy.
I am so grateful to her and I think that type of responsiveness from teachers to students is crucial. Teachers make a large impact on their students and have a key role in molding them into the people they become as they grow older. Using action to convey the importance of empathy and dependability is so much more influential than the spoken word.
Students- don’t hesitate to reach out to faculty members when you need support. Having someone you’re able to go to during the school day when your stress levels are likely to be highest is comforting and grounding.
Teachers – please be open to emotional intimacy with your students! You are sometimes our only supporters and a sterile relationship doesn’t create a bond with us. Don’t be wary of being “too understanding” or casual, as there is a happy medium between being an authority figure and a friend.
Shoemaker shared personal things about her life with her students, which made me feel we were not being kept at arm’s length. By sharing her stories with us, she inspired me to continue to try in school and to pursue my passions.
How could I be unsuccessful when Jan Shoemaker has done all of these things, and she tells me I can do great things, too?