Here is the article I wrote for TED TALKS (Blog):
Finding A Teacher Who Changed My Life, 31 Years Later
The heart of the TED BLOG article is about finding and thanking the significant people in your life, specifically the teachers who served as inspiration or surrogate parent. A quick search of social media (Facebook, typically) and Google and the website of the school are usually enough to find recent teachers. Just enter as search terms:
“Fname Lname” city “name of school”
“Byron Broderick” “New York” “P.S. 161”
But what about those from days gone by?
Many of the emails I’ve received so far are requests for tips on harder finds.
Here are 3 basic ‘find that special teacher’ approaches when the basics above don’t yield results and 2 things to take into consideration once you find them/if you find out about them.
1)Yearbook sites to find full names: Having a teacher’s full name is essential for the search; extra information such as subject matter or division helps. This is where sites with yearbooks, such as classmates.com , come in handy. Classmates.com , for example, allows you to register for free and see names of alumni, and most importantly scans of yearbooks.
Find the instructor, write down their full name, but also write down the names of others in the same subject matter or division. Often, one instructor may be easier to find than your target, and if they worked together in the same division, were friends, or associated outside of the classroom, a find of one teacher in one of these yearbooks can get you details such as where your target retired or moved, name changes, or other significant search factors.
2)Social Media to find school related/alumni groups: A direct search can be fruitless, especially for a teacher with a common name or if you don’t have full information like name or current city. Type in the search box (for example Facebook) the name of your school. Make sure to enter city as well. For example if your school was P.S. 161 in New York, enter in Facebook’s search box:
“P.S. 161” and watch for the autocomplete suggestions that say ‘alumni’ or ‘reunion’ or ‘you went to…if’. Enter city/location, to not waste time finding an alumni site to a completely different school or group at another state or city.
In one of these ‘alumni’ group, search quickly down messages for mentions of the teacher’s name. Also look for class pictures that feature your teacher. This can be gold, because often this picture will have tags for other students in that instructor’s class. With other students names, you can send a message/friend request and see if they have any information on your target teacher.
3)If the problem is not distance in time, but moved out of the school of your moment, consider Ratemy websites: Typically if the instructor was special to you, they were probably special to others. This is where a search on rating sites such as ratemyprofessors.com (for U.S. Colleges) or ratemyteacher.com (elementary to college, can search U.K., Canada, and a few other countries) can yield clues to where they are teaching now. A few looks at the comments and you may be able to spot the person you seek.
4)Obituaries: In some cases, you may search too late to personally thank that special teacher. Though morbid, a search of the name, school, and ‘obituaries’ in Google or other search engines can sometimes find an obituary. These have details that can affirm if the teacher that has passed on is the one you sought to thank. But what next? Contacting their children or family is not the same thing, but can still be fulfilling and definitely rewarding for a spouse or relative or child. The obituary typically provides information about next of kin.
5)Will they remember you? Possibly not. Don’t get offended if they don’t. Your quest is not about you, directly; it’s about giving thanks for a moment, an inspiration, or a role. Make gentle contact by phone or email first; judge if the recognition is mutual. If not, express your thanks, give praise, and make clear their role or what they did to make you grateful, then feel good that you probably made their day and let it go as a success. If they do remember you and/or their role was important in your life, personalize with an invitation to dinner, or a gift. Norman Cantor, an outstanding professor at NYU and even more outstanding teacher, writes in his autobiography how a class expressed gratitude by group sourcing a purchase of a bottle of wine. Little things mean a lot to teachers. Shared mementos of success are a powerful gift.
I wish you luck in finding and thanking those you seek. It’s wonderful all around when it happens, and gifts like human contact with good memories don’t happen enough in the lives of these wonderful people who have earned their title of teacher.