Meeting my high school teacher 38 years later

Who was your favorite high school teacher?

Mine was Mrs. Myrra Lee, of Helix High School in La Mesa, California, a suburb of San Diego.

Through an odd, but emotional set of circumstances, I discovered Mrs. Lee  was celebrating her 90th birthday in San Diego in July 2016, and her family posted an open invitation on Facebook to former students. Initially I declined because we had no desire for travel plans in June or July due to my husband’s summer work demands.

I contacted her family via e-mail and gave them my regrets. They asked if we would like to contribute to an album and I submitted this post, Teacher of the Year, thinking that was that. In this post I wrote these words:

Now that I am an educator, I wish she knew how much her teaching influenced my life, personally and professionally.

I never believed that I would ever get the chance to tell her face to face after 38 years.

In late June that year, my brother called to tell me that my mother, who lives in a nursing home in San Diego, had taken a sudden turn for the worst. Her doctor recommended the family should see her ASAP in case she was to pass. Abruptly, my daughter, my husband, and I made emergency plans to travel to San Diego to be with my mom.

As I looked at the dates to fly both my daughter and husband back home for work, I saw that the birthday party for Mrs. Lee was just the following Saturday. I e-mailed the family and asked if there were still spots open for the luncheon, and remarkably, there were several spots left.

The travel plans were for us to all drive the nine-hours together, then I would stay on and attend the party, and drive back home.

As much as I looked forward to this, I also dreaded the idea of my mother possibly passing away while we were there. The emotional rollercoaster that followed was overwhelming as I began grieving the loss of my mother.

From Friday, when we got the phone call, to Sunday night when we finally visited my mom, we weren’t sure how mom would look, but she looked amazingly well. Her doctor had painted a bleak picture of her prognosis. Since it was evening, she was already in bed. She battles a series of medical conditions including dementia, so she was confused as to place and time but recognized us all. Each day we visited her, she got better and the massive infection miraculously cleared up on its own. To this day she is still doing well, much to her doctor’s amazement.

I told my mom I was going to Mrs. Lee’s 90th birthday party. My mom had been with me in 1977 when we attended the high school reception honoring Mrs. Lee’s National Teacher of the Year award. She had returned from the trip to Washington D.C to accept the award from President Jimmy Carter.

Words that are dear to my heart now a year later were when my mother said, “Oh, she’s 90? Tell her I said hello and congratulations.” As if my mom had one foot in 2016 and one foot in 1977.

The day of Mrs. Lee’s luncheon brought me so much joy! Just the mere fact that I would actually see her after 38 years was hard to imagine. I was told by the family that she had suffered a mild stroke a few months before. When I entered the restaurant, I walked up to where she sat and introduced myself. She noticed my name tag and smiled. I asked if she remembered me and she replied very softly that she did. Elated and honored, I got a photo taken with her, then went to sit down.

I sat at a table with several classmates which was an unexpected delight. The best thing about the luncheon was the opportunity for us to stand up and share our perspectives and experiences we had with her as our teacher. They also passed around the two photo albums and I was enormously pleased to see my blog post plastered across two full pages.

Nervously I stood and thanked her for being such an inspiration to me. I’m sure I stumbled over a few more words, eloquent and otherwise, but more specifically, these: “I ended up becoming an educator, too, Mrs. Lee, and this is the joy of my life.”

She smiled and applauded, along with the rest of the room. I sat down with tears shining in my eyes.

In reading through the albums, it was clear that she had not let age slow her down, but continued to make news headlines.

In 2011, Mrs. Myrra Lee was also lauded for her role as a staunch advocate against human trafficking, long after retiring from teaching. This article, “Waking People to Injustice” written by Los Angeles Times Columnist Sandy Banks, leads with this headline:

“Myrra Lee, 85, is working to show sex trade’s hidden victims.”

As I listened to more of my high school classmates share their stories of her, I watched her and still saw that razor-sharp glint in her eye, as her educator mind drank in the memories and praise. Even her recent stroke at age 90 has not stopped those gears from turning.

Sadly, I had to leave the luncheon before it concluded to travel back home. I collected the dogs and my luggage and drove the nine-hour drive home reflecting on how two remarkable women affected my life as a teenager and still feel their continued influence into my midlife years.

My mother, through her daily example, taught me the value of leisure and fitness.

My high school teacher taught me the value of education and challenged students to reach for the stars and to not take no for an answer.

Was it a beloved teacher who inspired you? How so?

My signature

For all you bloggers out there who love stats and analytics, googling “Myrra Lee Educator” ranked my original post fifth on the home page! Your stories do make a difference!

64 thoughts on “Reconnecting with My High School Teacher

  1. Father Caster. He was so awesome. Funny, witty, and a true educator. Had him for 2 years of French, Creative Writing, and Art History. He was the moderator of the ski club too. He was fantastic. And I’ll never forget him.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This stories both of Myrna Lee, and of your mother, are very inspirational. What strong, remarkable women! Thank you so much for sharing this, Terri.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a passionate story, Terri. She sounds like an amazing person. No wonder you loved such a giving and caring teacher. You’ve had an emotional few weeks, haven’t you? OMG. Yet your writing about it all is beautiful – not whining or complaining, but inspiring. Thanks for this post. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Terri, I am so glad you got the opportunity to reconnect with this wonderful woman. You just can’t replace experiences like that. Your story brought a tear to my eye. I have many teachers who were special to me, and I never had a chance to thank them.
    I send hugs and good wishes for you in dealing with your Mom. I know it must be so difficult. I lost my Mom suddenly a few years ago, and I still think of her almost daily and wish I could talk to her. Take care!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What a lovely story of three amazing women – your mother, and I’m glad she’s doing well, Mrs. Lee, and Sandy Banks, one of my favorite columnists. My mother suffers from Alzheimer’s, so I know the pain of a loved one whose mind is fractured and slip shod. My favorite high school teacher was also a Mrs. Lee, my English teacher who taught nearly a college level course to us. And of course, Sandy Banks, who inspires me with her writing and life observations. Six degrees of separation, right?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. My 7th grade teacher noticed I wasn’t stupid as I thought I was. In particular she noticed the dots I would draw in pencil on my desk during math tests. She stepped up and within one month I went from a flailing student to a straight A student. She remains my hero to this day.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. How lovely to have such wonderful memories of a specific teacher. I don’t recall ever really feeling particularly inspired by a teacher. I think I was a funny, sensitive little girl and I moved schools 14 times so I kept my relationships at school fairly superficial.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. What a wonderful opportunity – and good on her family for opening up the event to her past students. It must have been lovley for her to see you all again and to know that she made such a long lasting and ongoing contribution to her students’ lives.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. thanks, Leanne, and for remembering this post. When I shared this on Facebook, my pageviews that day skyrocketed, no doubt because my high school friends saw the post 🙂 I haven’t heard of her health at this point but I hope she is still alive!


  9. What a heart-warming story, Terri! Sometimes, things are just going the way they are meant to! I’m happy for you that you were rekindled with your favorite teacher and that your mom is doing much better. What a trip! Since I am writing my memoir, I have been reflecting on which teacher played an important part in my life as well, and, I have concluded: my geography teacher in 11th and 12th grade! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. It eemed like fate brought you there Terri. I am glad that your mum recovered and is still doing well. Myra does seem like an inspirational woman who has left a massive impression on her students and many others besides. This was such a lovely story 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  11. What a wonderful story, Terri. It was lovely to read and I love how you say that Mrs Lee still had that razor-sharp glint in her eyes as she listened to all the stories being told by some of her former students. I wonder if fate had a hand in getting you along to the lunch? I’m so pleased to hear that your mum made a recovery and love how she spoke as if she had one foot in 2016 and another in 1977 when you told her who you were going to see.
    Your post made me think about the teachers who taught me. I remember Miss Banks from Primary school because she gave me the part of ‘The Mad Hatter’ to play in the school’s Christmas play. From senior school, I remember Miss Cotter, who taught me German and, even though I hated every moment, was still a favourite teacher of mine.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, Hugh! Sometimes we take our educators for granted, and I was indeed lucky to be able to see her one more time and chat with her. I love your memories and that you remember their names. I’m sure they would be pleased!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve no idea where they are now, Terri. They might just be looking down at me, but their names always stuck with me. I even remember what they looked like and how Miss Cotter would walk along the corridor as if she had a heavy rucksack on her back. It’s strange how certain things stay in our memory.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. What a wonderful tribute to both your mother and your teacher. You were so lucky to have been able to tell your teacher how much she meant to you and what a big influence she was in your life. I was able to do the same thing with my kindergarten teacher (who is still sharp as a tack) a couple of years ago.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I loved reading this post. My favorite teacher in high school was Mr. Caldwell. He was such a great educator and passed away a few years ago. I still have so many fond memories of him.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Your teacher looks wonderful for 90 years old and what a beautiful experience reconnecting with her to celebrate, Terri. Thanks for sharing at #MLSTL and I’ve shared on social media 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I was fortunate enough to have several inspiring teachers, Terri, but my all-time favourite was my high school geography teacher, Jim Auld. He brought the world to us, demanded the best of us, and had an absolutely wicked sense of humour. I still use his expressions – “My heart pumps warm Pepsi for you” when I want to indicate mock sympathy. And the very best – in Britain there’s an expression “hard cheese” to mean ‘tough luck’. Jim’s Canadianized version of this was “stiff cheddar.”

    Thanks for bringing back some great memories and thank you especially for acknowledging your teacher. I’ve had some students do that for me and, as you know yourself, it’s very, very special.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Fellow retired teacher here who LOVED reading this. What a special occasion, mixed with many emotions as you said going to see your unwell mum. I wrote a post on Monday called “Thank a Teacher”. None of us teachers want gifts but I know it is lovely to be remembered for being a teacher of influence in students’ education. LOVELY post. Denyse #mlstl

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I come from a long line of teachers so I guess teachers did affect my life just not in school. lol We moved a lot when I was a kid so it was not unusual to have different teachers and different schools every year.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Hi Terri,
    Visiting your blog for the first time, via MLSTL Party.
    What a lovely write-up, showing your admiration for your mother as well as your favourite teacher.
    My favourite teacher taught English. I liked him for a variety of reasons, like the way he interacted with his students, all those things about the world he told us, the little nuances of English language he taught us, etc
    Enjoyed reading your post. I have shared it on my social media
    – Pradeep |


  19. What a wonderful way to thank her. Unfortunately for me most of my teacher memories come with their “compare-itis.” They were always expecting me to be better in math and science because of my siblings before me.

    Liked by 1 person

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