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OP-ED: My teachers cared, and I can't thank them enough

Hazel Erickson

I remember it was too hot to pout. I was stifled by miscellaneous bags of books and shoes in back of my mom's rusty blue Ford as we cruised north up I-35 and out of St. Paul. In a month, I was set to start the first grade in my grandparent's strange small town. Even as a 6-year-old, I loved big cities, tall buildings and busy streets. In Cloquet, it was too quiet. I couldn't sleep at night.

Fast forward almost exactly 12 years, and I found myself in a similar situation. This time, in the August heat, my mom and I packed my life into her new silvery Chrysler and pulled back onto I-35. I watched Cloquet shrink in the rearview mirror with a smile as we started for St. Paul and my next big adventure: College.

To better frame this piece, I must illustrate that my first semester of college was my favorite four months of my life. I loved every minute of my early-morning classes, public transportation blunders and sleepless nights. I made amazing friends, met the most interesting people, and was exposed to cultures previously unknown to me. I found myself in no particular hurry to come home. I hated the idea of leaving my shiny new life in the big city, even if it was only for a little while.

But one week in early November, I had a particularly tough time. I had been

balancing too much and had reached a tipping point. So for the first time since August, I came back to Cloquet after my last class for the day to recharge. As soon as I got home I asked to borrow the car.

"The high school?" my mom said, leaning against my door as I set my backpack in my room. "All you wanted to do was get out of there. Now it's the first place you want to visit when you're back?" I stuck my hands in my pockets and shrugged.

I probably made that drive over a thousand times the past few years, but now I was making it for the first time in six months. I knew class was going on, but on a whim I walked to the English wing. I found a door open and when I peeked in, all the desks empty. I knocked on the metal door frame, "Hey Mr. Naslund, are you busy?" He looked up right away, smiled, walked over and gave me a big hug. We exchanged pleasantries and he motioned for me to sit in a chair near his desk. We talked, laughed, and (I) cried for the better part of an hour before he had another class. From there I talked to Ms. Grossman, a strong and determined women I had for much of my high school career and still keep in close contact with. By then, the school day was over and I walked from room to room saying my hellos as teachers wrapped up their days. I talked to Mr. Swanson, the man who inspired my political science major through his government class and the D.C. trip we took as a class senior year. Mrs. Waha, one of the kindest people I know. Mr. Zimny, my fun, quirky, physics teacher. Señora South, my sweet Spanish teacher for three years. Mr. Brenner, Mr. Riess, and Coach Oj, all guys I loved talking ball with. Mr. Anderson, one of the funniest guys ever, who I only had for only one class sophomore year. I was surprised he was excited to see me. I stopped in the office to say hi to the administrators, all the people who had helped me apply for college and scholarships: Mrs. Mielke, Mr. Bergen, Mrs. Sams.

I had no idea how much I missed my teachers. We are shaped by teachers, and I believe they are horribly underappreciated. I was born a big-city girl. I will live and die in a city that never sleeps. But I became the person I am today because I was raised in a small town with teachers who really cared about me. I could never thank them enough for that.

When I got back to my college in St. Paul the next morning and met my friends for breakfast they asked where I was the day before. I explained that I went home for the day to recoup.

"What?! Lucky!" they sighed.

I smiled to myself. "I know."