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In a world where the pursuit of knowledge and personal growth stands as a beacon of hope, we somehow overlook the immense impact educators have on our lives. Education transcends instruction; it transforms world views and shapes our shared future. 

This series is a celebration of gratitude, a collection of essays and interviews dedicated to the teachers who have left an indelible mark on their students. We will meet with seniors in our three high schools, asking the following prompt:

Now that you are finishing school in our district, think back over your years in school, from kindergarten to your senior year. Can you identify a teacher who made a real difference in some aspect of your life, academically or personally? What did they teach you about yourself? What would you like to say to them?

We’ll host interviews from schools over the next three weeks, but for today, we’re starting the series off with my own essay posted below, expressing profound thanks to retired Provo High School English teacher Mr. Arthur Ricci, whose dedication, wisdom, and mentorship ignited my lifelong passion for words. 

We also invite you to join us in celebrating the heroes who silently shape the world, one lesson at a time. Email newsubmissions@provo.edu with your letters or essays to your teachers and administration, or send your video reel to ProvoCitySchoolDistrict on Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube.

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Before I started teaching, I asked myself how to jumpstart my career in a sprint, what coursework could elevate my curriculum, or strengthen my bond with my students, what memory I could mine through, or qualities I could copy. 

So, I started at square one with the teacher who helped me pilot the choppy waters of adolescence, leading to my career in education. I started with your classroom. I admit I looked to steal some ineffable quality, but as much as I remembered content, I remembered how you made me feel– how you made me feel seen.

You were there during your office hours come rain or shine. You didn’t expect perfection, but you expected revision. When you read my first critical essay you needled through the flab and you pinned down a firm thesis, asking for a redraft. You prepared essays on critical theory according to the novels I gravitated towards. You loaned novels on reading critically before I showed any ability or aptitude for English. 

Then, when I failed out of History, you offered me an aid-period to study. When I ditched class, you had a classmate call me on speaker, and you left a heckling voicemail.

I remember all of this. 

I also remember your niche slasher suggestions for me and my then-girlfriend-now-wife to catch in theaters. When you caught us at the theater watching a movie on your suggestion, you whispered behind a trademark cupped hand that “Silver Linings Playbook has a late show– you could probably catch it if you walk backwards through the lobby— but you didn’t hear this from me.” 

I also remember how you regularly invited our class to see local theater of plays we were reading for extra credit, and when I finally asked if you could help grab me tickets for a showing, you got us front row seats next to you and your sons— and then, when one actress pulled me on stage as part of the show, I heard your bellowing laugh as the actress dragged me red-faced about stage.

I remembered what you said then, too: “I knew they were going to pull you on stage from where I seated you– your scene just made the show for me.” 

You lent me personal copies of Mailer novels which I forgot to return, despite your many jabs and irritated requests. I still have a copy that I should return, but I won’t.

When I finished the final essay of my high-school career, I remember the mark-ups, but I also remember your praise afterwards, commenting that my essay was worthy of publication at any University.

I remember that you asked me to share my work with my parents. I had never shared anything I wrote with my parents, but I did. I’d never felt proud of anything in my life until then.

Al Ricci, English Teacher. 

You were my favorite teacher, not due to any Dead Poets Society desk-wobbling, textbook-tearing speech, but because you were there to observe, and you expected something from what you saw in me, because you knew and expected a worthy piece constantly and inevitably as the full stop, because you always questioned how my weekends went and what my favorite films were and how my girlfriend was, your continued care punctuating and measuring my time in your class, because you cared and continued to care. 

Nowadays, I think teachers are expected to be heroes. 

Teachers are expected to be teachers and heroes and content creators, judicial yet impartial, romantics yet pragmatists and it’s impossible to strip any of these labels down into a realistic ideal, yet you were heroic, to me. 

You don’t have splitting laser sight to pierce hearts or psionic mind reading abilities, you simply listen and you see kids both as they are and what they can become, and you try to make kids see themselves as you see them. That was your superpower. 

I know you did the same for all of your students. It was not in the words you said, but in how you perceived your students, how you acted both in and out of the classroom with consistency on your perceptions.

Your students remember. I remember.

The Herculean effort that is recognizing the soul in each one of the thousands-plus ambivalent teens that traffic in and out of your door can’t be written about eloquently. It was through a thousand strokes, it’s measured in a perpetual stride that bounds without embellishment, and it was every day. I’ve learned that it’s in the minute and every day acts of goodwill that make souls grow. Thanks for everything, Mr. Ricci.

Spencer Tuinei
  • Communication Specialist
  • Spencer Tuinei
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