I was a tiny blonde who wished she’d have taken even more dance classes growing up, so I’d expect to you be surprised that one of my heroes growing up was an ex-military, sock and Teva-wearing 7thand 8thgrade teacher named Robert Boot.
I turned 30 last month, and to celebrate went on a 3-day backpacking trip across a Norwegian Fjord. I knew “Boot” would be proud of me and I wished we were still in contact. I had thought about trying to find him in the 18 years since I’d sat in his classroom. I’d briefly looked in the Cave Creek phonebook, but I knew that if Boot didn’t want to be found, you wouldn’t find him. In the time since I’ve met and befriended many of a survivalist, but none who could have gone off-grid as effortlessly as I’m sure Boot could. Any attempt to track him down would have been a futile effort. I knew this.
Still, nearly two decades later, I was still wishing I could figure out a way to thank him and let him know what an impact he had on the students he taught. So, I started composing this letter in my head as my best friend and I hiked across the mountaintops in Norway.
He wasn’t even supposed to be our teacher. He came in temporarily to substitute but took over. I doubt he had any formal teaching credentials, he didn’t need any. He treated us like adults and taught us about life. I remember his stories of walking through some desert in the middle east at night, tracking his direction by the stars and his distanced by a string of beads on his belt that he used to count his steps. I remember him telling me that I didn’t have to ask permission to go to the restroom or make paper copies, that he trusted me to be responsible for myself. He told us he knew all about how computers worked – from reading about the hardware – but he didn’t know how to turn them on. He taught me that I could learn anything if I studied hard enough and to not be afraid of a challenge. Throughout my 20s, working with governments around the world and with the United Nations, I never turned down a task because Boot taught me that I could find the answer.
When I finally left the classroom and transferred back into public schools Boot said something to the effect of “I want you to know you’re an extremely well-rounded individual and if you were my daughter I’d have transferred you a long time ago, because you’ve outlearned this school.” It was the first time I knew him to be wrong. I learned more from his classroom than any other, including my Masters degree many years later at Cambridge, but the fact that an adult had recognized me as a well-rounded individual was more fulfilling than I can probably express. I was a shy, nerdy kid fighting to be something more than a bookworm, and now I’m an objectively successful, and hopefully personable thirty-year-old, who has her childhood teachers to thank for building her confidence and teaching me that I was a unique individual and not just a student.
My parents were going through a pretty disagreeable divorce while I attended middle school at Ventana Academic Charter School. The teachers and principle I had there, who believed in us when things weren’t easy at home, were godsends. So while this letter is somewhat intended for the enigmatic Bob Boot, it’s also for all my teachers and all teachers. Thank you for what you do, your impact cuts deeper and lasts longer than you think.