Do you have an idol that you distinctly remember from your childhood days? Not some kind of celebrity, but just an everyday person who happened to impact your life? A teacher whose name and face you can still remember, or a trusted adult that seemed to guide you through the highs and lows of adolescence without you even realizing it? Even if you never get to see those people again, these specific kinds of influences have the potential to leave the greatest marks on our lives. The fun part about carrying these memories close to our hearts is that if you’re feeling this way, you’re closer to celebrities than you’d think. Adele’s recent special — complete with a surprise for the inner child — encapsulates this unspoken appreciation for the teachers of our youth.
Six years after her last release, Adele’s long-anticipated album has been a bright beacon to close the year odd. In her fourth record, “30,” Adele paints an honest and striking portrait of her personal struggles, backed by her iconic vocals. While the music itself becomes cherished by fans all over, Adele’s promotional concerts also brought joy to listeners everywhere.
Reviving the popular British television program “An Audience with…,” Adele took center stage to celebrate good company and great music. This “unforgettable night of music” was also saturated with famous faces like Emma Watson, Samuel L. Jackson and Emma Thompson. Adele performed stand-out favorites such as “Rolling in the Deep” and “Hello,” as well as her newest hit, “Easy On Me.” Her stunning vocals, which got celebrities to dance from their seats, were the perfect way for the powerhouse performer to kick off a new album.
A stellar audience and a special album came together at the London Palladium, but not without a few surprises in tow. Actress Emma Thompson asked Adele in a Q&A portion of the program “if there was someone from her younger days who supported her and inspired her to go on.” In response, the balladeer was quick to mention her secondary school English teacher. Adele gushed about the way Ms. McDonald continues to impact her today: “She got me really into literature. Like, I’ve always been obsessed with English and obviously now I write lyrics.” The sweet moment was completed with an even sweeter cherry-on-top, as Thompson reveals that the beloved Ms. McDonald was invited to the special night.
A surprise that left no dry eye behind, Adele immediately greeted her teacher with open arms. The large sobs and tight hugs speak to how thoughtful this gift was to her, even though Ms. McDonald was only her teacher for one year. As Adele constantly repeated throughout the moment, “She was so bloody cool. So engaging. She really made us care and we knew that she cared about us.” Not only was Adele able to reflect on her love for Ms. McDonald in this one-night special, but she was quick to call upon this educator, long after leaving the classroom.
Even though the celebrity audience was present for the heartfelt reunion, it was the social media audience that sobbed hardest over the pair. The original clip of the reunion posted to ITV’s Twitter page has accumulated over 23 million views since it took the internet by storm. Everyone who watched the video immediately posted their emotional reactions to the scene: From verified celebrities to everyday social media scrollers, the digital community fell in love with Adele and Ms. McDonald’s relationship.
For example, Hugh Jackman was quick to mention that the reunion was “Proof positive that teachers have superpowers.” Switching gears from the high-profile to the everyday, the comments on the reunion sang their praises for teachers as well. One Twitter user responded to the video with the statement, “This made me cry omg English teachers really are from heaven.” The reference to Ms. McDonald as a former English teacher was crucial to the conversations that followed: Nearly every message relating to Adele’s reunion commented on a shared love for childhood English teachers. As one tweet recalled how it’s “always the English teacher,” the message brings new light to the humble educator.
While the tear-jerking moment pulls at heartstrings through the screen, it also begs the question of the importance of teachers as lifelong influences. When someone as famous as Adele quotes a childhood teacher as an inspiration, the sentiment does not go unnoticed. The additional knowledge that Adele specifically mentioned her secondary-school English teacher subtly acknowledges that the humanities can change the lives of individuals from a young age.
Though the conflict between the humanities and STEM is a constant battle, the school system hierarchy is no match for the power of memory. In this respect, the emotion-driven connections that are made through engaging with literature and art remain prominent and shining pillars of childhood. Maybe it’s because the humanities encourage a safe space to explore the stories that make us human, or that these subjects are often staffed by people who really love to teach. Regardless of the reason, these subjects are the blessed few that help students get excited about education for the long run. Just as Adele shows that you can be a global superstar inspired by childhood English lessons, the impact of a good and caring teacher is limitless to the student.
Even today’s pop cultural realm recognizes how essential the humanities are to self-discovery. The 1989 film “Dead Poets Society” places Robin Williams’ character as the “saving grace” among teachers at a fictional boarding school. While other subjects pale in comparison to the movie’s emphasis on English literature and poetry, it is the emotional reactions that students have to the subject that reap rewards. The ability to be vulnerable with one’s feelings — especially within the rigid structure of school — continually makes English and humanities studies a fascinating point of reference. Additionally, in the 2012 movie adaptation of the novel “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” the English teacher becomes a familiar crutch to the main character in a time of uneasy transition. Not only do these fictional English teachers aim to inspire their students, but they also offer points of safety and refuge to ease the woes of adolescence.
The childlike quality of remembering teachers by the titles you called them in adolescence also memorializes them as important personal markers in your history. No matter how much time passes, the distinguishable memories of being in, for example, “Mr. So-And-So’s Class,” will never be removed from that specific memory. Sure, everyone knew that teachers had lives outside of class — and, subsequently, first names that were never used during school hours — but it’s a tender love to remember a teacher by their title. In her reunion, Adele could only refer to her teacher as “Ms. McDonald,” because that is how she continues to remember the instructor. The singer walked through her memory as she stated, “[Ms. McDonald] was bloody cool and so relatable and likable that I really looked forward to my English lessons.” Watching Adele put herself back in that position of being in English classes with an awesome teacher — one that was able to encourage her to fall in love with the subject — exhibits the lasting power that meaningful educators can have on an individual.
Despite how sweet this clip is, can we make a universal claim that humanities and art teachers are “holy grails” of education? In one sense, the memories and experiences that one has with a teacher will always be subjective, which shows how these “truths” will vary from person to person. However, we can’t deny that the study of humanities has its own kind of underlying magic, as these soft-spoken subjects have the power to help students express themselves around the world. One’s early connections with the humanities leave behind treasured moments, and their lasting effects show themselves over time.
Heavily quoted as “a love letter to English teachers everywhere,” Adele’s program was a culmination of the best parts of her art: deeply emotional and worth the messy crying session. Near the end of Adele’s reunion clip, Ms. McDonald subtly mentions to her former student, “Thank you for remembering me.” That statement echoes the reality that many teachers and students face: No matter how others may influence you, it is impossible to know if they will feel the same way. Luckily for Ms. McDonald, Adele is quick to assure her that, “Oh my God. No, you really did change my life. I’ve got all my books from when you were my teacher.”
Tipping our hats to the educators that did justice to our learning and openly loving those who helped us on the journey seem to come across as the best things that can happen in our youth. If Adele can pull inspiration from a childhood teacher, then memories of our own education experiences do not seem farfetched at all. While moving forward with our teachers close to our hearts, maybe the gap between everyday people and celebrities is closer than we think.