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Michigan Arts & Culture

Essay: My Student

I was reading the New York Times Book Review a while ago and saw a Letter to the Editor from a man I’ll call Jerry Conrad. He was a history professor in Connecticut. 

Now, many years ago, straight out of college, I taught eighth grade English in Connecticut—and had a student named Jerry Conrad. Was it the same person?

I could still see Jerry in the front row, his brush cut and his hand raised to answer a question.

Thanks to the Internet, I found his email address and sent a message, asking this stranger if he might once have been in Miss Anderson’s English class.

Twenty minutes later he wrote back:

“Yes, I am that Jerry Conrad!”

My first impulse was to apologize. “I wasn’t a very good teacher that year,” I wrote. “I was so brand-new, so overwhelmed.”

Jerry was forgiving. “Clichés!” he said. “You taught us about clichés.”

That might have been my only effective lesson because I felt so strongly about getting rid of those old worn-out phrases.

Today, our roles are reversed and I am Jerry’s student, consulting him regularly about history and politics.

He knows so much! And he also keeps writing Letters to the Editor.

Very good letters, no clichés.