When middle school teachers say goodbye to their students at the end of the year, they often don’t know what kind of impact they’ve had on the kids.
These educators are critical to a student’s development, yet their efforts often go unnoticed. But there’s one person who has made sure that his 8th grade science teacher got the recognition he deserved for changing his life.
Albert Siedlecki has been teaching science at Memorial Middle School in Medford Township, New Jersey, for over 40 years. The kids call him “Mr. Sie,” and he has taught hundreds of children with his hands-on technique.
Mr. Sie loves his job and pushes students to do their best. And while he loves his work, he never really understood how his students felt about him until he received a surprise phone call.
One of Mr. Sie’s former students from the 1980s, Lee Buono, wanted to speak with him right away. Mr. Sie remembered the name, but he had no clue why Lee was contacting him.
Lee is currently a neurosurgeon. He was compelled to speak to Mr. Sie after operating on one of his patients, a judge. Lee performed an awake craniotomy on the judge because a tumor was in the motor area of speech.
Following the surgery, the judge was able to speak clearly again. The judge was so thankful that he gave Lee a piece of advice that resulted in him reconnecting with his old middle school science teacher.
The judge told Lee to thank the person who helped him decide to be a brain surgeon. Lee immediately knew who it was. According to Lee, the judge said:
“Make sure you thank him for the inspiration to be here.”
When Mr. Sie spoke to Lee, he was overtaken by emotion. He said:
“That phone call changed the way I look at every single student. From that minute forward. When I realized that every single person has this potential.”
Lee recalled how he had to dissect a frog in Mr. Sie’s class. After he removed the brain and spinal cord, Mr. Sie complimented his skill and said it was the best dissection he’d ever seen. Lee explained:
“He said to me, ‘You’ve got the hands of a surgeon, you’re smart, bright boy, and you could be a surgeon, you could be a brain surgeon if you wanted to.'”
Lee was only 13 years old, but encouragement from a man whom he greatly respected altered the course of his life. It was at that moment that he realized he wanted to be a brain surgeon.
Following the phone call, Lee returned to Memorial Middle School to thank Mr. Sie in person. The teacher gave him a special gift — the very same frog brain and spinal cord that Lee had dissected so many years ago.
Mr. Sie had kept the project and had it mounted on a plaque to give to his former student. Lee was blown away by the gesture.
“It’s a beautiful gift, but the meaning behind it is far beyond words. It was telling a kid, like a son, like a father, you can be anything you want in life.”
Mr. Sie wasn’t aware that his classroom lessons made such a huge difference in the lives of his students. It’s clear that his guidance, support, and encouragement have made a big impact on young people.
Mr. Sie noted:
“We give students the opportunity to solve problems that haven’t even been yet determined. We give them the tools they need to do that, and if we have done that, we’ve done a fine job, all of us.”