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,
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,
“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?