To Thank a Teacher

Last week I visited my old elementary school, Eno Valley Elementary. I had fantasized about going to the office and asking for contact information for my favorite teachers. I wanted to have one of those teacher appreciation story moments. I was thinking especially of these women:

-Mrs. May, second grade, who taught me how to analyze literature when we read “Brighty of the Grand Canyon.” In an effort to imitate the cool girls’ handwriting, I purposefully let mine become cutesy, with circles over my lowercase I’s. She put a stop to that, and sat down with me one day to fix my handwriting. I am amazed at the time she took, because I was at the top end of the class, and it would have been so easy to ignore me and my needs. But she did not; She challenged me and expected great things from me. I credit my innate aversion to “your” instead of “you’re” and “it’s” instead of “its” to Mrs. May. And, more importantly, I credit my initial interest in writing to her as well.

-Mrs. Rogers, third grade, who was a sweet lady and listened to me tell her all about the Book of Mormon. I even brought her a copy of it. She was so kind to let me tell her about my growing testimony and allow this little Mormon girl to feel like a missionary. I have no idea whether or not she read it, but it was a successful experience for me, because it made me feel good about sharing the gospel. That was a gift.

-And, of course, Mrs. Bullock, my fourth grade teacher. It was a combined third-fourth grade gifted class, and she did what I believe the best teachers do: created a community from the class. We read journals aloud to each other, the fourth graders had third grade buddies to help with their cursive letters and times tables, we worked on group projects, and at the end of the year I felt so at home there, like I had twenty-five friends.

But the secretary at Eno Valley Elementary couldn’t give out personal information, so all my fantasies about writing thank you letters evaporated. I got all emotional on that poor secretary. “They were really good teachers,” I sniffled. She handed me a tissue and I left.

They were really good teachers. And I have plenty more from later years of school, and my kids have been blessed with wonderful teachers as well. But this week my heart turned to the teachers who helped me love school when I was small and eager. In this season of gratitude, I am so thankful for them.

Tell me about your favorite teachers. Have you ever contacted a teacher from a long time ago?

About Emily M.

(Poetry Board) graduated from BYU in Comparative Literature, but it was long enough ago that most of what she learned has leaked out. She would like to mention other hobbies or interests, but to be honest she spends most of her free time reading (although she does enjoy attempting yoga). She used to blog at hearingvoices.wordpress.com. For now, though, Segullah is her only blogging home, and it's a good one.

25 thoughts on “To Thank a Teacher

  1. Oh yes, I had wonderful teachers, but most of mine were from high school, so after I graduated it was easier to keep in touch because I became an adult. Even though it’s been 16 years and too many moves to count, I still keep in touch with my best teachers. When I was in graduate school and feeling very beaten down, wondering if I belonged there, if I was good enough, I actually called my 11th grade English teacher who I knew believed I could do anything to get some of my confidence back–however pathetic that may sound.

    I love the way you describe how aware your teachers were of you and how much they cared about your individual learning. My son has a teacher right now who doesn’t seem to value his students as individuals at all and it breaks my heart for him. I honestly cannot wait for this school year to be over for him. Thank you for sharing your experiences and allowing me to relive mine.

    Amy

  2. Amy, I love the story of calling your 11th grade English teacher to help you gain confidence back. People like that are wonderful.

    Tiffany, I blush to admit that, um, I don’t remember their first names. I think that someplace in a box somewhere I might have my elementary school yearbooks, but I have no idea where. When I do find them, I will definitely harness the mighty power of the internet to see if I can track them down.

  3. You could send thank you notes to the school district office, explaining that you know that cannot give out personal information, but you would love for your teachers to receive your thanks. If they have retired, they might still be able to contact them via Pension information.

  4. have you considered trying to find them on facebook? If you know their first names you may just find them. I know I found my very favorite and influential teacher on there…

  5. I love teachers! I wonder if you wrote the notes if the district would forward them? It’s so nice to be thanked.

  6. Ah, writing the district is a great idea. As I mentioned in earlier, I need to track down their first names to be able to find them on Facebook. But that is also a good option.

    I’d still love to hear more stories about your favorite teachers and what made them great…

  7. One of my favorite teachers was Mrs. Carly. I don’t know if I can pinpoint any particular method she used that made her great, but as I look back I can tell that she cared. She cared about what she taught and she cared that we learn. Somehow the rest does not seem nearly as important.

  8. My fourth-grade teacher, Mr. Mortenson, was fantastic. I credit my love of reading and writing to him. He had a “reading railroad” on one wall of his classroom, and each student made a paper car to track individual progress along the road. One other girl and I read so much that he had to create clouds and planets to track the number of pages we read. In the end, Stacie edged me out by three pages for the top prize, but the damage was done….a reader was born.

    Years later when I was a freshman in college, I joined an anti-drug campaign that gave presentations in elementary schools. My old school was on the list of possibilities, so I called Mr. Mortensen and arranged a presentation in his class. I was just 17, but felt so OLD to be in a fourth-grade class again. It was very fun to reconnect. He is LDS, and during every General Conference I look for him in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Even my kids can point him out now!

  9. Cindy, how cool! I love that place. I have very happy memories of it.

    Jennifer, that sense of having another non-family adult who really cares about you is so valuable.

    Heidi, I love that story! I love the way you can trace your love of reading to Mr. Mortensen, and you and your kids look for him in the choir.

    I actually emailed the district today–if I can find their first names it would help quite a bit. They are in my elementary school yearbooks, which are buried in a box downstairs in my scary scary storage room.

  10. Mrs. Nemeth, 3rd grade, taught me and 12 of my 13 siblings (small town, big family :)). I remember her love. And I remember she was the first teacher to encourage my love of writing, to reward whatever silly, imaginative story came out of my 8-year-old head. Because of her connection to my whole family, I’ve been able to keep in Christmas-card touch with her.

    Mrs. Forvilly, my band director, who gave a 14-year-old musician who’d hardly ever even listened to jazz the chance to be the pianist for the school jazz band. She helped me develop talents I’d never thought of that have blessed my whole life. She also treated me like a friend, not in that trying-to-be-your-pal way, just by showing respect, engaging me in adult conversation, showing interest in my ideas, asking good questions. We also share a foundation of faith (different churches) that has strengthened our bond. Because she made me feel like a friend, we have stayed friends for over 20 years. I often visit with her when I’m home, and we exchange notes at least once a year. She continues to bless my life with her faith, service, and energy, even as she grows into old age.

    Thanks for a great topic, Emily.

  11. Great post Emily. Thank you.

    I keep trying to Google one of my high-school English teachers because I would love to write him and thank him. No luck yet, but I’ll keep trying.

  12. I am amazed Emily that you can remember such vivid detail of your elementary school experience. I know I owe my teachers a lot, but I can’t remember who exactly taught me what.

  13. Oh, I love this topic. I have so many teachers I adore, who helped shape me into the person I am today.

    My fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Manion, told me I was a good writer and gave me the assignment to write extra short stories. I wrote terrible short stories, mostly pretty blatant ripoffs of Narnia, and they were very very long.

    My high school French teacher was another great influence, and I’ve loved having her back in my life through Facebook. She even showed up at our 20th reunion so we got to see each other in person.

    So many of my college professors were amazing. Roger Keller (World Religions and also American Christianity and Mormonism) opened the world to me, introduced me to the Tao, and happened to also conduct our stake choir while I accompanied. (Mendelssohn, if I remember correctly.)

    But by far the teacher I love the most was my piano teacher from the time I was 5 until I graduated from high school. She was almost like a second mother. She loved me dearly and taught me more than just how to play the piano: literature, politics, history, life. She died this summer. I miss her dreadfully, but I know she knew how I felt about her. We exchanged phone calls and cards and visits, and sometimes lately while I’m practicing I feel her near me. I’m working on a program that means a lot to me, and I’m pretty sure she’s pulling some strings behind the scenes to help me memorize faster than I normally do.

    I’ve also been lucky enough to get letters from former students. They are priceless. So if you’re thinking about writing one, do it. It means so much to teachers to know that our blood, sweat, and tears have helped someone.

  14. Cheri, what a wonderful band teacher. Great teachers really have the ability to bring out strengths we didn’t know we had.

    Dalene, I need to dig up my stupid boxes and try google too (p.s. it was so fun to see you this morning!)

    Grandma Honey, there are so many things I forget. Just about all of junior high is a blur. But right after fourth grade we moved to Utah, and I spent the next few years wallowing in homesickness for North Carolina, so I spent a lot of mental energy dwelling on those details.

    Kerri, I had that World Religion class from Roger Keller too, and it was one of my top five classes at BYU, just because I felt like it opened my eyes to a whole new world and taught me a greater respect for other faiths.

    Thanks for your stories, everyone! Keep them coming!

  15. Oh yes. But I can’t focus on telling the stories, because I’m so sad that your teachers didn’t get their letters. Sometimes the schools will forward the letters for you. But if not, its really pretty easy to find people on the internet nowadays!

  16. I loved my third grade teacher, Miss Cheleen. She was an angel. My father had been killed during summer vacation and the world seemed chaotic and scary when I went back to school in the fall. However, in Miss Cheleen’s classroom there was nothing but love, kindness, and order.It was a sanctuary for me. She even came to my birthday dinner at some fancy restaurant downtown because she knew I was fragile and needed extra attention. I will always feel love in my heart for Miss Cheleen.

  17. Mrs. Hewlett, my 4th and 5th grade teacher. She was like a mother, comforting, self-assured and gave me the structure I needed. She helped me see that even though my sister had the stellar IQ, I was intelligent and capable as well.

    Mr. Case my high school art teacher. He was estranged from the church but he gave me so much that strengthened my faith. As a high school student I didn’t know what was really going on behind the scenes but I got the feeling that he was not a favorite with the administration or parents (which is a whole different dynamic in Utah). In the end it was a guidance counselor who sexually abused students, not ever him.

  18. Angie, when I find the box with my elementary school yearbooks so I can know their first names I will definitely look them up online. I was hoping the school would have some kind of past employees database that would make it possible to only know the last names. I really have no idea where to start looking, though, because I am just that disorganized (I’ve also got all my in-laws’ life stuff in my basement, so there’s more to it than just my personal chaos). I could go through thirty boxes before I found them, and with my luck they would be in the last box.

    Kathryn, what a wonderful above-and-beyond woman. I have to tell you, you have that gift of making a class feel like a community, like family. I was amazed by the unity you created in the BYU class I took from you. That’s one thing I think makes a good class, and a good teacher, great–that you meet individual needs while also creating a bond between the students. You are superb at this.

    Jendoop, what a great woman to give you that kind of vision of yourself. And I think it would be hard to be an out-of-the-box teacher in Utah–it sounds like he made a difference in spite of some cultural opposition.

  19. I recently went to my 20-year high school reunion and was able to go on a tour of the high school that I attended with the 40-year reunion attendees. My AP Calculus teacher happened to be there, and I was delighted to have the opportunity to thank him. He let me come in early for tutoring — I was really struggling with calc, and he believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. He was a great guy, and an excellent teacher.

    As a teacher myself, it means so much to me when my students from previous semesters email me and thank me. It makes it worth every effort that I put into my class.

  20. That is so sad that you didn’t get to tell them how you feel. You’d think the school might have at least offered to send the letters off for you. Think how happy those teachers would have been to hear that they made such a difference!

    You may be able to use the internet to find them yourself. It’s worth a try!

    As for me, I’m sorry to say that I don’t have a teacher that really stands out for me. The best writing teacher I had was my mom, and she taught me to read, too.

    I do have fond memories of my teachers, but not one of them stands out from the others. Maybe that’s because they were ALL good. I kinda think so. I loved each one!

    =)

  21. Next time I go to visit my parents, I’m also dropping in on Mr Kimball, who refused to give up on me for three years of math (geometry, algebra II, pre-calc/calc). That poor man… I’m taking him a copy of my book, which is nearly all 2-D and 3-D geometry, so it’s “his fault” I was able to write it. I may also take a copy by to Mr Winnett (English), just to prove I eventually conquered my habit of italics, and learned to just *stop* my sentence, instead of using endless Victorian semi-colons. Mr Jones (history) was a fantastic educator who understood boredom, and didn’t expect me to be satisfied with additional endless drone work. And Ms. Deiker, who loaned me books out of her own library in the 5th grade, and put me in the “high” spelling group and made me stay there, too.

    Prof Primus St. John was another great one (poetry), as well as Dr West (history), even if Dr West couldn’t get comfortable with a history person taking a double major over there with the heathens in English.

    I think I’ve had more than my fair share of excellent teachers, even if my overall educational experience had a grand lot of very negative aspects.

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