Mr. Benjamin Boruff, English teacher: 738,000 minutes teaching

Benjamin Boruff

Before my first year as a teacher, a mentor told me, “Always be sincere, patient and sympathetic. Speak and act with care. You’ll be surprised what students remember.” Years later, I fully understood what she meant.

It was 2018, and I was teaching AP Literature at a school several miles east of Munster. School was busy. Chaotically so. I watched (and fell in love with) the movie “Coraline” for the first time in with Movie Club, and my National Honor Society student officers created WORMS (Warriors of Reducing Mental Stress)— a peer-to-peer counseling program to address mental health needs at the school. At the suggestion of a couple students, I also organized the school’s first lip sync competition.

The day of the competition—Wednesday, April 18, 2018—is cemented in my memory. I began the day by playing Franz Liszt’s curiously imaginative classical melodies as a way of introducing my AP Lit students to the themes of Romantic-era literature. After school, Movie Club members stopped by toby room to eat a Coraline-themed cake I attempted to decorate for a student’s birthday. And that evening, we moved to the auditorium where a large crowd watched fifteen student groups lip sync a wonderful variety of songs, including “The Greatest Showman’s” “This Is Me” and a particularly captivating performance of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.” Few things spark as much joy as watching some of your favorite students enthusiastically perform Franklin’s 1965 soul-pop feminist anthem in front of a crowd.

The most impactful moment, however, was the next day when a student placed a letter on my desk. The two-page letter offered a personal story and some gratitude, including this paragraph: “Yesterday I experienced something that I never imagined for myself. I celebrated my birthday in the high school auditorium, filled with a strong feeling of appreciation for everyone in my life. I can’t tell you exactly what you did to help me, and I can’t pinpoint the exact moment where everything shifted, but it did. Somehow I’m here, and somehow I know that you played a role in an elemental change in how I think.”

I have a folder in a bag where I keep important letters I receive from students, and I still carry that bag with me every day. Today, that letter, along with others, rests there as a reminder that sincerity, patience, and sympathy always matter. Even if the impact isn’t immediate.