Turning the Tables

by Shawn Yasutake
Golden, Colorado, USA

Turning the Tables

I’ve often heard stories of teachers being heroes to students, but sometimes the tables are turned.

I was on an assignment at a junior high school. Keely was one of my ninth-grade students. Keely was a “tough girl”, somewhat rebellious, but under her tough exterior, I could see she was very intelligent and caring.

One day, she walked up to my desk with a concerned look on her face. “Last night I dreamed you were in a car accident,” she said. “You weren’t hurt, but it seemed so real that I’m worried about you.”

I assured her I’d be careful so the dream wouldn’t come true, but that apparently wasn’t enough. “Just in case,” she said, “I have something for you,” and she handed me a purple rabbit’s foot.

I asked what it was for, and she replied that it was for good luck. I realized that Keely was concerned enough about my well-being that she would buy this charm for me. This touched me so much that I hung the rabbit’s foot from my rear-view mirror that afternoon.

Our district is notorious for treating new teachers like furniture, passing them from school to school with no regard for continuity. I had taken the job at this school as a short-term replacement for a retiring teacher. I knew going in that the principal had always intended to hire someone else for the position on a permanent basis. I worked hard, my students learned and they enjoyed my classes, but I knew there was no chance for me to stay. I got to the point where I was ready to quit teaching and go into another line of work. Higher pay, less politics, more prestige — all were considerations for me at that point.

When Keely found out I wasn’t returning the next year, she mounted a campaign in my behalf — getting student signatures on a petition, talking to parents and getting them to write letters of support for me, and so on. All was to no avail — the decision had already been made. At the end of the semester, I packed my things and moved on.

Keely’s support, however, made me reconsider quitting. Knowing that she would go out of her way to help me made me realize that I had made a difference for her and for many others. Thanks to this realization, I decided to keep teaching. I found that I really enjoy my job and my students. I now try to see the good in all my students, even the “tough” ones. I’ve learned to look under the persona and see the person.

Oh, and ten years, three cars — and zero accidents — later, I still have the same purple rabbit’s foot on my rearview mirror. One way or another, it has been good luck for me.

Thanks, Keely, wherever you are.

Originally published as HeroicStories #124 on Feb 22, 2000
Available in The Best of HeroicStories, Volume 2.

2 thoughts on “Turning the Tables”

  1. We heard from the author over on the HeroicStories Facebook page:

    Thank you for posting my story. I had almost forgotten I had written this for the website.

    Just as an update, I recently retired after spending nearly 30 years in the classroom. I’ve not regretted staying, and I’m pretty sure most of my students are happy I stayed.

    The rabbit’s foot, unfortunately, got lost when I bought a new car about 5 years ago. It lasted through five cars and twenty five years. It was a constant reminder that there are good people out there.

  2. What a fantastic story and update! It is gratifying to know that what you did made a difference to someone to where they would make an effort to help you. Keely saw and appreciated what Shawn offered as a teacher and tried to return the favor (she did as Shawn remained a teacher). Shawn must have been that teacher to so many students, and affected countless lives. It has been almost 20 years since the original posting, so much has transpired–it is great to hear back from Shawn and to know that they remained a teacher!


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