Thank You Notes
A few weeks ago, I came home from a particularly long day at school to find a wonderful surprise in my mailbox. One of my advisory students, a young woman I had as a student for seven years, sent me an unsolicited two-page letter. She attached a short note to the letter saying that, after all the letters of recommendation I wrote for her, she wanted to write one for me because “you can never have too many letters of recommendation.”
Her letter included the following: “What makes Ms. Kovacic such an amazing teacher is that she acknowledges every situation, whether good or bad, can be used as an opportunity to learn. She does not settle on textbooks or worksheets to do her teaching, but rather recognizes she is a vessel that can be used to have a lasting impact. Her lessons reach far beyond the classroom. She has taught me to believe in myself, even in the darkest of times.”
As teachers, we send our students onto the next chapter in their lives – whether it be another class, another school, or into the world – not necessarily knowing the full impact of our words and lessons. We say “keep in touch,” but more times than not, even in the age of email, both the teacher and the student move on to the next challenge. That is why it is so special to receive a kind word from a former student. It helps validate our efforts, provides some much needed solace, and perhaps reminds us about the role of a teacher in our own lives.
I was fortunate to have many dedicated and capable teachers as I went through the K-12 public school system in my hometown of Arcadia, California. In recognition of some of the excellent teachers who played important roles in my life and in my career as an educator, and in recognition of The Day of the Teacher, May 12, I want to send out a few of my own thank you notes:
Thank you Mrs. Dudley. I remember your smile. Walking into class, I was always greeted with that smile. However, it was your daily mantra that stays with me to this day. “Do your best and never give up.” In fact, the phrase “I can’t do it” was not allowed to be spoken within the safe confines of our second grade classroom. Mrs. Dudley, you are why I teach. You taught your subjects well, but, more importantly, you helped me realize the power of a teacher’s unfailing faith in a student’s ability.
Thank you Ms. Williams. Even though I was never a very confident math student, you saw and fostered my potential. Meeting weekly at 6:45 a.m. for tutoring sessions, you were patient, caring, and unwavering in your belief that I could master trigonometry and pre-calculus. For the first time, I felt smart in math. You constantly reassured me that it is through mistake and practice that one reaches excellence. Perfection was never the goal. Rather, personal and intellectual growth was the target you always set for us. You made me love math so much that I was glad to have you both my junior and senior years.
Thank you Mrs. Uranga. You pushed me beyond my own comfort zone and taught me how to think and analyze. As we learned about betrayal in Toni Morrison’s Beloved, explored the nature of evidence and truth in Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia, and contemplated the American Dream through the eyes of Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby, our minds were opened to worlds beyond our own town and experiences. You helped an uncertain junior find her voice as a young woman and writer because you always believed in me and took the time to critique my work, not just give me a grade.
Thank you Dr. Onderdonk. I teach high school social studies because of you. You made history come alive and made it relevant to my life. In your A.P. United States history class, you taught lessons about equality, justice, and the responsibilities we bear as participants in our constitutional democracy. Not content to lecture simply about dates and events, you forced us to experience history. As the defense attorney, it was my job to defend Andrew Jackson’s removal of the Indians. As a clerk for a Supreme Court Justice, I wrote my first legal brief analyzing contract law in Dartmouth vs. Woodward. You helped me recognize and honor the risks that women such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Alice Paul took so that I may have the right to vote and equal opportunities. I shared my own family’s history, including a trek to rural Nebraska to find the one room stone house where my great-grandmother was born, in your famous “Personal Museum” assignment. Your calm presence, wonderful stories, and signature chuckle made me eager to come to class and kept me captivated and engaged. When the bell rang at the end of each period, I was never ready to leave.
I am the teacher I am today because of the amazing teachers who nurtured and believed in me. They took the time to improve my life, and the lives of countless others, and modeled the very best of public education. We should do it more than once a year, but at least on The Day of the Teacher, let’s all take the time to remember and honor the great teachers who preceded us in this great profession.