Belated Thanks

Advocate, Education, Special Education, Teaching Add comments

Dear Abby: I am writing to thank the teachers who were kind to me when I was an at-risk child. My mother was mentally ill, my father was absent and the school was my haven. I often wish I could tell some of those adults who helped me along the way that I’m so grateful for the ways they intervened in my life. (June 3, 2010)

Although I never considered myself an at-risk child, with a working mother and an absent father, I was concerned about my family. School was my haven also and I, too, wish I could tell some of my teachers what they meant to me. It’s a safe bet that people old enough to have been my high school teachers are no longer living, so these will be belated thank you letters.

Dear Miss Quinn,

Because our high school was small, I was fortunate to have you as my freshman English teacher, my senior English teacher, and my drama coach. (As you know, this situation was not an advantage when it related to math teachers.)

You really were a dedicated teacher, one who was always prepared to stimulate us to love literature as you did. You also slipped in a life lesson each day as you had a special message on the blackboard every morning. One I remember well was “I complained because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.”

You led me to love poetry as you required us to memorize poems you treasured and ones we found. Many of those poems are still in my mind, food for thought and comfort. Between my freshman and senior years I decided to enter an oratory contest. I chose Paul Lawrence Dunbar’s lovely ode “When Melindy Sings.” One day when we were rehearsing, you came into the auditorium to listen. Although I was not your student that year, you pulled me aside and coached me in the beautiful dialect and cadence. I didn’t win the contest but both of us knew that I should have.

You encouraged – required – us to write. I wrote my first journal in your class, a skill that has enabled me to write articles and books for my professional and personal benefit. I remember one day when I was looking out the window, daydreaming, and suddenly picked up my pencil to write. Rather than chastising me, you asked me to read the poem I had written.

I’d like to take a tree
And shake its bristles dry,
To dip it in the sea
And brush across the sky.

As a drama coach, you were relentless. You gave me the character roles I loved and the self-assurance I needed. I would love to have your thoughts on the things I have written and the words I have spoken since that time. You would be painfully honest and always encouraging. I am grateful to you for teaching me and for helping me to be a good teacher.

With love and respect,

Jane Bolton

Much later, when I returned to college after 20 years and 4 children, I was probably at greater risk but with more determination than ever. My first encounter was with a math teacher who had a major, if negative, effect on me. As indicated above, I did not have a good background in math and learned from my children that the current approach to math was quite different from the rote method used in my early days. As a class, we were experiencing a great deal of difficulty with the new concepts. Our teacher, apparently frustrated with our lack of understanding, stated “I don’t care whether you get this or not!”
That was a useful lesson in what not to do.

Then along came this lovely, quiet-spoken professor from the Department of Elementary Education.
Like Miss Quinn, she was my teacher in my undergraduate and graduate years. I really meant to write to her and learned that she had died. I hope that somehow she will know how important she was to me.

Dear Dr. Newell,

I entered your class with trepidation and left it with confidence. You had been giving demonstrations on TV on the “new math.” You came into the classroom with an overhead projector and a number of simple objects to show us the concepts of commutative and associative, words totally foreign to me. You manipulated the objects, saying, “See how simple it is.” And magically, I did!

At the graduate level, you had us make math teaching materials, particularly applicable to my special education needs. I remember bringing home the wires and colored balls to make an abacus, and my husband saying, “Good. Now that you know your colors, I think it’s great you’re learning to count.”
(Little did we know that my own student who was blind would find this tool so valuable.) Dr. Newell, do you know what happened? I loved math!

Years later, when I was teaching my college class in math methods for exceptional children, one of the comments on my class evaluation stated, “You’ve got to love someone who thinks a place value chart is beautiful.” I owe that to you. That and the fact that you were my stimulus and model for becoming a college teacher. Thank you for leading me to an exciting and fulfilling career.

With love and respect,

Jane Schulz

“Ready for an exciting and fulfilling career.”

I know I shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition, Miss Quinn, but I ask you reader –
whom would you write a belated thank you note to?

4 Responses to “Belated Thanks”

  1. got2reply Says:

    After reading Jane's thank you notes, I decided to post a portion of a belated thank you note written to one of my teachers one year ago.

    June 14, 2009

    To Dr. Jane Schulz,

    I must tell you that I wish I had written this a long time ago. Since we cannot change the past, I have learned not to live with regret or to beat myself up with 'should haves.' As a professor and parent of a person with disabilities, you left a lasting impression with me, which is why I directed my current and future donations to WCU to benefit the Jane Schulz Scholarship Fund.

    Grown Man Now is not only a book about an exceptional man and family, but it also chronicles your remarkable career and provides us with more of your valuable life lessons. As I have listened to the CD while driving, working, or walking my dog, I have become your student again and have spent some time reflecting on some of your previous lessons.

    In 1977, as we prepared to graduate, the nation was preparing for full implementation of Public Law 94-142. You told us we may need to “beg, borrow, or steal” to obtain supplies and materials for our students and I wondered if I, a shy 21-year-old, would be able to provide for my classroom. At the onset of my teaching career I did learn to beg and borrow, but fortunately, never needed to resort to a life of crime by stealing! 😉

    You taught us that we needed to be creative in finding ways to meet the individual needs of our students. You also told us we would be mother or father to some students; social worker or counselor to some parents; would need to teach administrators and other teachers about special education; and our lessons must be innovative and fun, so sometimes we may need to put on our clown face. I delighted in clowning when I taught young children. I developed a talent for using humor appropriately to defuse angry middle school students with emotional disabilities.

    Grown Man Now has helped me realize that my retirement must not end my advocacy for people with disabilities.

    Many thanks to a remarkable teacher. Pollye

  2. Jane Schulz Says:

    Pollye, you have honored me in so many ways. Thank you for this lovely letter, for your contributions to the scholarship fund, promoting my book, and especially for renewing our relationship.

    I also appreciate your career in working with students with special needs and now in helping their parents understand their rights and responsibilities.

    Thank you for carrying the torch!

  3. Debbie Draper Greenfield Says:

    I just received my WCU magazine to find the photo of you and Billy on the cover. You were such an inspiration to me when I was in graduate school from 1978-1980. I remember trying to be matchmakers for Billy and learning so much from both of you. I have now worked for 32years in education, mostly as a special educator. It is a wonderful field with many rewards. Thank you for teaching me the importance of advocating with grace.

  4. Jane Schulz Says:

    Debbie, how wonderful to hear from you! Congratulations on your wonderful career. Knowing you, I am sure you have meant a lot to many people. I remember you so well, especially when you were an adorable Raggedy Ann! Love to you, Jane

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