Towson High School teacher Scott Olson was scrolling Facebook last week when a post from another Baltimore County Public Schools teacher caught his eye.
In it, the teacher asked her Facebook friends to thank a colleague during Teacher Appreciation Week. Since 1984, the National Parent Teacher Association has designated one week in May as a special time to honor teachers. This year, the week fell May 8 to May 12.
Olson, a 38-year-old Advanced Placement psychology teacher at Towson, who lives in Essex, modified the post by tailoring it to his former students.
"I'm all about being positive, especially on social media, so I wanted to see if I could get a few kids to tell me what they were doing," Olson said.
His post read:
"For Teacher Appreciation Week, I'd love for my former students to reply to this post and tell me how they are doing and what they are doing now (school, job, career, family, etc.) and maybe throw out a positive favorite memory about us, or maybe a post about another teacher you remember fondly and tell them how they positively affected your life."
Within minutes, the comments began flooding in from former students thanking the 16-year teacher for his role in shaping their lives, Olson said, adding that he was surprised by the breadth of their experiences since leaving Towson High.
One former student said she was doing her third round of Peace Corps service in Ukraine, teaching English and working on community projects. Another said he was head chef of a French bistro in Baltimore City. Others shared stories of their studies, with many crediting the pursuit of careers in psychology and teaching to their former Towson High teachers.
Some of the responses came from former students who are now Baltimore County teachers, praising their now-colleagues for inspiring them to teach. When Olson read some of the comments to one colleague at Towson, the colleague teared up in the hallway.
The public post had 122 comments and counting as of May 19.
"I didn't expect all the enthusiastic responses that I got," Olson said last week. "It kind of blew up."
The Facebook posts represented the the first time he had heard from many of his former students on how their lives have evolved since high school, he said.
"There's so many kids I didn't realize were teachers," Olson said. "There are so many kids who want to enrich other people's lives. I was also blown away by the amount of kids [who] are in psychology."
'A great experience'
Among those who responded was 30-year-old Erica Hall, who now lives in Baltimore City following career moves that took her to North Carolina for a broadcast production position, and California for a contract human resources position at Google. She returned home for a corporate recruiting position at Baltimore-based Royal Farms.
Hall, who graduated from Towson in 2005, said she never had Olson as a teacher but felt compelled to post because she remembers him fondly as her friends' teacher, she said.
"His personality is electric," Hall said of Olson. "He was always very encouraging and very easy to talk to, which is good for teenagers. He was that go-to person for all of us and he wasn't even our teacher."
She mentioned English teacher Jeff Tarlow who, she said, had boosted her self-confidence by encouraging her to present an assignment at the lectern and praising her afterward. She now recruits employees for about 50 Royal Farms stores across the Mid-Atlantic region and speaks publicly often.
Hall asked Olson to check up on Tarlow for her, adding that she had heard nothing about him since she graduated. She had served as Tarlow's teaching assistant.
Olson then approached Tarlow in the hall one day at Towson High. Tarlow, 63, said he "doesn't do Facebook." But Olson said the quick exchange in the hall left the 41-year teacher teary-eyed.
"It's always neat to bump into a kid when you're an adult," Tarlow said later. "Some of my oldest students are almost 59. It's really great when you bump into kids and they remember something you said."
Monica Short, who graduated from Towson in 2011, said Olson's AP psychology class helped her make the decision to pursue psychology over journalism.
She graduated from Marietta College, in Ohio, in 2015 with a bachelor's degree in psychology; she lives in Ellicott City and works answering the phone at the National Human Trafficking Hotline in Washington, D.C. The national, anti-trafficking hotline and resource center serves victims and survivors of human trafficking and the anti-trafficking community in the United States, according to its website.
Short is also working on a master's degree in women's studies with a health and sexuality concentration at Towson University.
"I didn't know anything about psychology before I took [AP psychology], but the way Mr. Olson taught it helped us to connect to the concepts and pushed me to figure out what I wanted to major in," Short said. "I realized journalism wasn't as much my passion as I thought it was."
Short and other students, including David Zeigler, said their time at the high school was marked for the better by Olson's teaching style, recalling lessons on the psychology of video games and social experiments.
Zeigler, of the class of 2009, attended the Maryland Institute College of Art before moving to Washington state for wilderness college. The nine-month course on the outdoors and survivalist training prepped him for his current role in customer service at the Washington-based outdoor apparel company, Outdoor Research.
"Mr. Olson was one of the biggest highlights of my time at Towson," Ziegler said. "He really had a knack for getting his students involved in that entire world of study."
After graduating from Towson High in 2010, Sarah Chase earned a bachelor's degree in biochemistry and moved to South Korea to teach English. She is now working on a master's degree in education at Virginia's Radford University and hopes to use that to make learning accessible to all students — a goal she said was sparked by the engaging teachers she had at Towson.
Though she was initially hesitant to respond to Olson's Facebook post, reading other people's stories gave her the courage to share the path her life had taken, she said.
"In our current society we don't value teachers very highly and we pay them very little," Chase said. "In general, we give teachers a hard time. You see one teacher start a post like this and there are hundreds of comments… I thought that was really beautiful and wanted my story to be a part of that."
As a second-grade teacher, Katarina Lincalis, who graduated from Towson in 2010, said she understands both sides of teaching.
Lincalis, who teaches at Lansdowne Elementary School, commented shortly after Olson's post went up, crediting her high school teachers with her choice to pursue elementary education.
"As a teacher, I can understand the desire to know what your students are up to," she said. "I teach kids who are a lot younger, but I hope one day they'll come back and tell me what they're up to."
Olson said he hopes the stories about his former students continue to come in. In the meantime, he continues to respond to them.
"I'm still trying to catch up," Olson said. "They just kept coming and coming."