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Here is a letter to a teacher who has made a difference in my life. She has since passed, but her lessons stay with me today.
I want to thank you for being such a wonderful teacher. Many teachers and coaches influenced my love of learning and school. One of my earliest and fondest memories of school was my final year at the in elementary school. I was a member of your combined 5th and 6th grade class (What a challenge looking back!) Some of the students I remember are Chris M., Tom C., Jon B., Gina, Christine S., and Tommy R. (RIP). It was one of my fondest years in school.
What diversity in the class! Students were from 3 distinct sections of town. There were two grade levels, many different reading and math levels, and many different family backgrounds. As a current teacher, I wonder how you did it. I remember the respect and love you gave to each student. I remember you acknowledging and appreciating our individual strengths and characteristic traits. You made each student feel like he or she had value. You made us believe we could achieve anything. It is probably the greatest gift a teacher could give to a student.
You were able to manage a class that had each individual striving to do his or her best. I remember the math section of the class. We each had individual programs. We would complete the assignments in the book. Students at similar levels would work together (cooperative learning). The students who were more advanced would assist other students to help them understand concepts (peer facilitators). The assisting student gained a better understanding of the material and also gained a better understanding of differences in our society. We gained an appreciation that we all learn at different levels and we all have different abilities. This lesson about others was much more important than the fractions or other concepts we studied.
Each student took ownership of his or her work. In math, we learned the material with guidance from you. We completed the problems and when we felt ready for a test to show our mastery, we took the test. After completing the test, we graded it ourselves. I (and I believe the rest of the class) never cheated. We learned honesty. If we did not make the necessary grade, we did some more exercises and probably worked more closely with you. Whatever level we achieved by the end of the year was irrelevant. We learned personal responsibility. We learned values. By working on our own, we learned our own definition of success, which I constantly use in my coaching. “Success = the peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.”
I often refer to the above quote from John Wooden, however the philosophy of being responsible for my own learning and progress dates back to your class. As a teacher, I am amazed at all the “life lessons” you were able to teach me.
Not only were you a teacher, but a friend. It was amazing to me that so many former students would come back to say hello. You had such a positive impact on so many of us. At the end of the day with our coats on and waiting for the last few minutes before the final bell rang, you engaged us in conversation about our personal lives. You talked about your hobbies and interests as well as ours. In those discussions, we learned you were not only a teacher, but a person too. You shared your love of gardening. I remember you showing us your house on our “nature walk” field trip.
After that great final year, we both moved on to bigger and better things. We both went to the middle school. I went from the big man on campus to the low man on the totem pole. Although I never had you as a teacher in middle school, you always made a point to talk with me when our paths crossed. As a student in the 7th or 8th grade, I stopped into one of your classes. You pointed out some of my strengths as a person to your class. You made me feel good about myself. But you also developed a connection between the students. You developed a connection that maybe we were part of a much bigger existence than our own adolescent or pre-adolescent world. It is a lesson that as we grow older, many of us forget.
I later became a colleague of yours when I was a substitute teacher. I talked with you about issues I would face on the other side of the desk. I never really was comfortable calling you PAT although you always insisted. Although I might not know what name to call you, I do know you are a mentor, a role model, an inspiration, and a friend.
As a student, I never knew how difficult it was to be a teacher. There are always issues outside your “circle of influence;” student home life, student motivation and goals, student experimentation of or addiction to drugs or alcohol (high school and middle school), funding of contracts, respect by the community, salaries, re-certification, etc. There are many distractions in the teaching profession, however you always had very little concern for areas outside your control. You always put your students and teaching first. This is a very important lesson for all in our profession to remember.
You were such a great role model at every stage of my life, 5th grade, middle school, in my twenties as a substitute teacher, and now in my thirties as a married professional teacher. (By the way I married a science teacher, we have great “chemistry.”)
As I write this letter I know why I became a teacher, because I love working with young people. I love to see them develop. I love to see them succeed. I love the profession of teaching. I learned my love and passion from several different people. Other than my parents, you have been one of the greatest influences in my life. Elementary and middle school students do not truly appreciate the lessons learned in school or the dedicated, caring, and devoted teachers they may have had.
I want to thank you for leading the life you have. I want to thank you for teaching the way you did. I want to thank you for caring for me and nurturing my learning. I want to thank you for being an inspiration in my life. You are a great teacher and have influenced people in so many ways.
In our hectic lives, we often neglect the most important thing … our relationships with others. I want to take the time to let you know your significant impact in my life. In my Sociology class we are currently reading Tuesdays with Morrie, which includes a quote;
“A teacher affects eternity; he (or she) can never tell where his influence stops.”
– Henry Adams
Your teaching, values, and passion for others are being passed on in my teaching. I am working to be the best teacher I can. I am making a conscious effort to model as many lessons as possible. This letter is one of my models.
With the seniors counting down their last days, I want to devise lessons that will be interesting, useful, and focus on teaching “life lessons.” (I actually may institute a portfolio system and self-evaluation assessment for the seniors’ final term.) In a few short months each student will be accountable for his or her own actions. Personal pride and accountability are very important character traits. If people can learn to give their best and be satisfied with their best effort, they will be successful and happy.
As you can see, your teaching and your lessons continue to be used by one of your students. I am so glad to have had you for a teacher and so lucky to have been able to interact with you at so many points of my life. You are a truly great person.
I am honored to call you a friend and am blessed to have known you.