(How hundreds of students reached out in gratitude to a beloved former teacher in the days before his death.) Every year around Valentine’s Day, and in the spirit of Random Acts of Kindness, I try to find a way to reach out and do something kind and unexpected for someone. Quite often it is to say “thank you” to someone from my past; someone who had a positive influence on my life and might not even know it. Several years ago I had been thinking a lot about my high school English teacher, Raymond Goss. I have always enjoyed writing, but rediscovered a passion for it when my youngest son was diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum disorder. I started blogging to find an outlet for my emotions, and somehow that ended up helping other people who read my words. I recalled being in Mr. Goss’s class and how he really enjoyed & encouraged my writing. One time he actually got quite giddy about a unique paper I wrote, jumping up and down in his chair, exclaiming, “YES!!! YES! THIS is what I wanted!!!” I wondered what he would think if he read any of my new work. I wanted to tell him that he made a difference in my life and that I thought of him every time I wrote.
During that time old high school friends had begun to reconnect on Facebook, and Mr. Goss often came up in conversation as we reminisced. He was one of those amazing teachers that got students excited about learning and about life. They appreciated his energy and passion, his unique view of the world, and the fact that he could teach with equal levels of earnestness the symbolism of Dr. Seuss or Dante’s Inferno. Despite his occasionally crusty exterior he was described as, “My favorite teacher”, “The best thing to happen to English”, “My inspiration for becoming a writer/teacher”, and “The only person I felt I could talk to”. One student wrote, “He was just one of the coolest teachers I think I’ve ever known. Even when it wasn’t about English or Literature, he was teaching about so many things.” Another said, “We LOVED Mr. Goss!! Who else could discuss how important it is to have your glass of milk so cold it almost hurts? Or read Dr. Seuss’ ‘Are You My Mother?’ to you and put it on your senior English exam?”
I had heard whispers that Mr. Goss was battling an aggressive form of cancer, but I was not sure if that sad news was supposed to be public knowledge. It increased the urgency of my desire to contact him, but I did not wish to invade his privacy. I waited many months for the opportunity to reach out to him, all the while a feeling of desperation growing inside me. I wondered if he knew how many lives he had touched, or how many students viewed him as a crucial positive influence on their education. I was sure that those students who sang his praises on the internet would be devastated to learn that they could no longer tell the man himself. I decided that it would be an utter tragedy for Mr. Goss to die without the possibility of knowing how many students spoke so highly of him; without knowing that he had made such a difference.