You Matter

Cal Belden, with his great-grandchildren

This is a short note to every teacher out there. You matter.

More than 40 years ago a teacher let me take the floor for a bit when the curriculum took us back to the discovery of the early hominid, Lucy, near Addis Ababa. 

You see, that summer I had read Donald Johanson’s book about Lucy’s discovery, forty percent of a skeleton from a being that lived three million years ago. That’s a long time ago. Thinking of creatures living that long ago intrigued me, thinking about the process of evolution and the high sounding Latin name for her species, ​​Australopithecus afarensis, fascinated me. The way she got her name (the team partied that night to the Beatles’ song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”) was extraordinarily cool to my 15-year old self. 

At the beginning of the school year, my social studies teacher mentioned precursors to humans, found out I knew a thing or two, and gave me the floor for a few minutes. I felt like an expert, I felt knowledgeable, I felt seen and heard. A good day in high school.

One other memory from class really sticks out, not related to the curriculum at all. It was just an aside, I’m sure, I forget the context. Paul could possibly be a professional musician, he told the class, Paul could make it one day. I remember sitting very still, not knowing quite how to react, but realizing in that moment that teachers talk to each other, that they wonder about us, their students, that they have hopes for us, and that they want us to succeed. And here was my teacher, letting me know, publicly, that teachers believed in me. That my time in the music department wasn’t going unnoticed. That I was, like the day I told about the discovery of Lucy, heard. I mattered. 

A month ago my sister mentioned that she was teaching piano lessons to the great-grandchildren of our former social studies teacher, Cal Belden. I wrote these two memories to his family in an email, shortly before he passed away. They shared my memories with him. And I’m sharing them with you, because if you are teaching, it’s important to remember that you are making memories for students that will stay with them for forty years and more, memories that will lift them up and motivate them for a lifetime. 

Thank you, Mr. Belden.

2 thoughts on “You Matter”

  1. My Dad really cared for kids. His own & his students. In his classroom he loved speaking to his students. His belief was that students should focus on one communication & not four all at once ( listening, writing, speaking, understanding).

    That is why he always had his notes on the board for kids to copy when the came into his class. Kids could copy these test worthy notes & then he would be able to discus those notes openly within the classroom discussions between himself & students. He made it a fun classroom with his antics, facial expressions, and lessons to remember about history. He was a great Dad!

    Thanks Paul Magnuson

  2. Thank you, Paul. Hearing the stories of how my dad connected with his students has always been inspirational to me. The fact that you recognized this in him and shared your story with us is a gift to him, our family and to all the teachers that are are making a difference in the lives of their students. Sometimes a very simple act of kindness or of taking an interest in a child can make a profound difference in the life of that child. Your recognition and gratitude of this also speaks loudly of your character. Thanks again.

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