Volume 16 Issue 3
Teachers make a difference in the lives of their students every day, but sometimes, it takes a thoughtful note from a former student to remind them.
It was one of these notes that got CTA staffer Mary McNulty thinking. Her husband, Granite Bay High School Assistant Principal Brian McNulty, had shared a letter that history teacher Brandon Dell’Orto had received in the wake of a school tragedy last spring. The note moved McNulty to suggest we do something to showcase these letters of thanks. “I don’t believe that we can ever take too many opportunities to let those who have impacted us greatly, especially our teachers, know just how much we appreciate them,” Mary wrote in an e-mail to the Communications Department. We agree.
Many of us have written to our own favorite teachers or counselors or bus drivers to let them know how much they meant to us. These notes may end up tucked away in desk drawers, pasted in scrapbooks, or tacked onto a bulletin board to be read on a particularly bad day and then tucked away again. Still, they serve as tangible proof of the positive impact one person can have.
These notes are worth sharing — especially at a time when shameful attacks on teachers have reached epidemic proportions. That’s why we are launching the “Thank You, Teacher!” Project to remind the public — and each other — of all that educators do. Over the past several weeks, we’ve asked you to send in those cards and letters that keep you going. And send them in you did. You sent in “love” notes from first-graders, thank you notes from college-bound high schoolers, updates from post-grads, and letters of appreciation from grown adults who have achieved success and happiness.
Beginning in this issue and over the next few months, the California Educator and the cta.org website will feature those heartfelt notes to teachers, counselors, librarians, community college faculty and education support professionals who educate and support California’s students.
It was just a short note. Four words. But it meant a lot to Mardiece Patrick, a third-grade teacher at Truckee Elementary School and a member of the Tahoe-Truckee Education Association, who sent us an e-mail that read:
“A student gave me a note the last day of school which ready simply, ‘You changed my life.’ I will never forget it, because that’s why I do what I do!”
Joni Micals, a special education teacher and member of the Hart District Teachers Association, has developed a cache of thank-you notes since 1975, the year she started teaching. One of her former students wrote:
“In the two years of you being my teacher, you helped me to control my temper better and brought my grades [up]. … Before I met you, I was any teacher’s worst nightmare, but somehow you calmed me down. Before I met you, my history grades were terrible, but you make it fun to where I wanted to learn.”
Margaret Fujisawa, an education support professional who is a member of the Association of Classified Employees – Culver City, has received her share of thank-you notes in her work as a guidance technician at the Culver City High School College Career Center, including this one from a college-bound student:
"Thank you so much for all your help thus far in my high school career. Already you have assisted me in ways that I haven’t even imagined, opened doors that I did not know were there. I would like to take this time to show my gratitude for recommending me to receive the scholarship for Santa Monica College and working tenaciously so that I could receive priority consideration for the Culver City Community Scholarship. There were many things that you did not have to do for me, but you went out of your way to fight for me and still continue doing so today. … You’ve already done more than I could ask for."
At a time when school librarians are being laid off, it is important to remember their roles in a student’s life, as Karen Boyarsky, a librarian at Beverly Hills High School and member of the Beverly Hills Education Association discovered. She received a letter from Sandy Anahi Chamorro, a non-English-speaking immigrant student whose world was rocked when she began spending time in the school library.
"While wandering around and checking out the books, many caught my attention, such as languages. It’s beautiful to understand where the words we speak every day come from. And it amazes me that now, learning my fifth language, Russian, I am powerful enough to start a business around the world. Thanks to a little red Latin book in the language section, I know how to encode what people are saying. … I would like to thank Mrs. Boyarsky, Dr. Ramsey and Ms. Sedgi for being the first ones to teach me English, Joe Wianeki for always keeping it real, and Barbara Palmer for being so strict. You definitely put me on the right path to success, and I will keep going that way. One day I will come back to Beverly Hills and Beverly Hills High School’s library is the first destination."
Lenn Schwartz, a teacher-librarian member of the Firebaugh-Las Deltas Unified Teachers Association, was surprised this summer to hear from Andrew Valencia, one of the students in his middle school language arts class nine years ago. Valencia, who has been teaching English abroad before applying to graduate schools in creative writing, e-mailed his former teacher in July:
"I’m writing to let you know that, nearly a full decade later, I still remember you as one of the first teachers I ever had who really opened my eyes to the world of writing and literature. I still remember you reading to the class from Steinbeck’s Cannery Row and encouraging me to read Saroyan and other writers. That was the first real exposure I had to great literature, and it helped me develop a love for the written word as well as a desire to write fiction myself. These many years later, I have come a long way from the kid I was in the eighth grade; I graduated last year from Stanford with a bachelor’s degree in English and a minor in history."
Hearing the news of the tragic death of a student at Granite Bay High School prompted a former student of history teacher Brandon Dell’Orto to write him a note this spring. Now at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., Christy Johnson was attending a student conference with President Obama when her mind drifted back to her high school teachers. In an e-mail to Dell’Orto, she wrote:
"The person who I am, the person who I’ve become, my goals, my ideas, my ethics, the reason that I am at Georgetown, and ultimately, the reason that I momentarily was sitting 10 feet from one of the most influential men in all of history all stem from my time within the Granite Bay community.
In classes like yours we are all challenged to open our minds, we are encouraged to find enjoyment through learning, and we are all inspired to be the change the world needs to see.
So today, when I sat with 300 other students and was told by our president that we would need to accomplish all of the things that he cannot, I immediately thought of all of my high school teachers because you all are the ones who are really changing the world."
Noticeably touched, Dell’Orto, a member of the Roseville Secondary Education Association, commented in an e-mail to staff, “In the midst of tragedy, testing upon testing, taxes, tax battles and the like, it’s nice to know that sometimes what we do does get through.”
Sometimes it takes a few years for students to look back in appreciation for their teachers. It wasn’t until a Fairfield police officer heard his former elementary teacher, CTA President Dean Vogel, on the radio that he decided to drop him a line.
"You may or may not remember me, but I did want you to know that your guidance and leadership had a lasting effect. I still have good memories of the class singing while you playing the guitar or you reading from a book called Where the Sidewalk Ends. I know I was a handful to deal with throughout elementary (and you stayed on top of my actions). I wanted to send you a VERY late but well-deserved THANK YOU for your commitment to leadership, education, and for not giving up on me."
SO KEEP THOSE LETTERS COMING IN.
Send your thank-you notes to the “Thank You, Teacher!” Project, CTA Communications Department, 1705 Murchison Drive, Burlingame, CA 94010, or to firstname.lastname@example.org.
And maybe you want to drop a line to a teacher who made a difference in your life.