People who have been out of school for decades are expressing sentiments on social-networking websites that they dared not express in their youth, reports the New York Times. At a time when public school teachers are being blamed for everything from poor test scores to budget crises, Facebook is one place where they are receiving adulation, albeit delayed. People are using Facebook to re-establish relationships with teachers and express gratitude and overdue respect.
One particular story is of Darci Hemleb Thompson. She had been on the lookout for Alice D’Addario for many years. From her home in Hampton, VA., Ms. Thompson, 49, who is married and has a 12-year-old daughter, was determined to find Ms. D’Addario on the Internet. She tried every search engine and networking site she could find. About 18 months ago she hit the jackpot. “Nice to see one of the greatest teachers of all time on Facebook!” Ms. Thompson wrote on Ms. D’Addario’s wall. “I love to go to your page just to see your smiling face. Even your eyes still smile. You are an amazing person!” Ms. D’Addario was Ms. Thompson’s Advanced Placement history teacher at Walt Whitman High School in Huntington Station, on Long Island, in 1977. “She had such a huge impact on my life as a young adult,” Ms. Thompson said, describing her tumultuous teenage years living with two alcoholic parents and experiencing early symptoms of multiple sclerosis. “I was depressed and so sad and so isolated, and she reached out and saved me,” Ms. Thompson added. “Facebook gave me the chance to tell her, ‘You’re the one who pulled me through.’
The tributes underscore what researchers have identified as a major force in adolescents’ lives, said Jacqueline Ancess, a researcher at Teachers College at Columbia University. “The most powerful factor in transforming students is a relationship with a caring teacher who a kid feels particularly connected to,” said Dr. Ancess, who added that many students had told her that if not for a particular teacher, they would not have graduated or would not have taken a certain direction.
Some former students have tried to recreate old roles, using Facebook messages to draw a teacher who had nurtured them back into their lives. Lisa Nielsen, 41, a former library media specialist at Public School 175/Intermediate School 275 in Harlem, which she said was for troubled students, logged on to Facebook one day last year and saw this message: “Hey Ms. Nielsen, I had to find you because you made a wonderful impact on my life. If people only knew how great of a teacher you are.” The message continued, “I know it’s been at least 10 years since you took me under your wing,” and added, “Let’s talk, got a lot to say!”
Bill Chemerka, 64, who was a history teacher at Madison High School in New Jersey for 29 years, said he did not know what Facebook was until a student pointed him to the 455-member “Mr. Chemerka Fan Club” page. He found this message: “Your love of history and teaching oozed from your pores and allowed every student to absorb your knowledge and passion for life and history.”
Sheldon Jacobowitz, 68, said he was delighted about his Facebook connection with roughly 200 former students from New Utrecht High School in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn (the school that inspired the 1970s television series “Welcome Back, Kotter”) where he taught math for 37 years. “I think it’s amazing; it’s a great feeling,” Mr. Jacobowitz said. “How they make you feel that you were so important in their lives – it makes everything worthwhile.”