Never Underestimate the Power of a Teacher – How It Only Took One to Save My Daughter’s Life


Never Underestimate the Power of a Teacher - How It Only Took One to Save My Daughter's Life

My daughter got on a plane yesterday to head off to her second semester of college halfway across the country from me. While the distance and separation have taken some adjustment – for me, more than her – she’s thriving at college. She passed her first semester of classes, loves dorm life, made friends, changed majors, handled doctor appointments on her own, joined multiple intramural sports teams and navigated the airport alone for the first time. These are especially huge accomplishments because there was a time I wasn’t sure she’d live to graduate high school. While lots of people played a part in her getting to that milestone, her favorite high school teacher gets the MVP trophy.

My daughter dealt with severe anxiety and depression in high school. There were weeks at a time where getting out of bed was nearly impossible and she missed big chunks of school. There were other days she’d have panic attacks so severe she’d call me from the school bathroom sobbing. It was very difficult for her to pay attention in her classes when she was struggling with her mental health. All of this increased her anxiety and lowered her self-esteem, making it harder for her to go to school. Then she’d fall further behind and become even more anxious and depressed. It was a vicious snowball of a cycle. 

She was under the care of a pediatrician, psychiatrist, and therapist. She had an IEP and we met with the student support team regularly. There was a whole team of professionals offering suggestions to help her, but she still battled anxiety and depression all through high school. Her home base teacher was her safe space all four years of high school. I don’t think she would have graduated without this teacher’s support. I’m honestly not sure she’d be alive without this teacher’s support.

She gave her purpose. 

This teacher knew my daughter liked to help and feel useful. She’d reach out to her with special tasks to encourage her to go to school or give her something to focus on once she got there. She put my daughter in charge of decorating the classroom for the holidays, asked her to pick up emergency coffee on her way to school, asked for help organizing folders, got her involved in community volunteer projects and more. She even requested my daughter to come to school early to help her with her makeup on school spirit day. 

She made her feel special. 

When her teacher was pregnant, my daughter was one of the first students she told. She was also one of the first she told the gender after her ultrasound. My daughter’s condition became so severe she needed to be hospitalized in junior year. This teacher very tactfully arranged for classmates to send her cards and letters while keeping the details of my daughter’s condition private. She also sent my daughter a whole butternut squash while she recovered, which was an inside joke. My girl treasured that squash and kept it until it rotted.

She gave it to her straight. 

She told my daughter things she didn’t want to but needed to hear. She let my daughter cry in her classroom after a devastating breakup, but urged her to stop thinking about the boy and focus on moving forward. We all know teenagers don’t listen to their parents. This teacher was able to get through to her in a way I couldn’t. “You matter. You’re important. These feelings are going to pass.” Reassurance coming from her trusted teacher touched her differently than when I said it.

She was there for me, too. 

Being a mom to a child in a mental health crisis is extremely difficult. I felt helpless, alone and exhausted. Her teacher would check in with me during the day to let me know how she was doing. Knowing someone else cared and was looking out for my child meant so much to me.

She did all of this while dealing with dozens of other students, raising young children, being pregnant and then pumping for her newborn in a school closet. She also tutored in her math and coached her in asking her other teachers for assistance. 

Mrs. Kelly, you were a lifeline. There are no words to express how much your care, support, encouragement, and kindness meant. A 2015 study from the National Institute of Mental Health revealed an estimated three million US teenagers had at least one depressive episode in the previous year, increasing the likelihood of dropping out of school. You not only helped my child beat that statistic, but you also helped keep her alive. My daughter and I will be forever thankful you were in her corner.

High school teachers, teenagers are hard. Struggling teenagers are especially complicated. I know it seems like you aren’t making a difference sometimes. Trust me, you are. 

This was written and submitted with my daughter’s permission.

Also Read: 6 Reasons Childcare and Preschool Teachers Deserve So Much More

Never Underestimate the Power of a Teacher - How It Only Took One to Save My Daughter's Life

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Rachael Moshman
Rachael Moshman, M.Ed. is a mom, educator, writer, and advocate for self-confidence. She’s been a teacher in classrooms of infants through adult college students. She loves pizza, Netflix and yoga.
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