Thanking Teachers



The bumper sticker “If you can read this, thank a teacher” is a clever way of reminding us that teachers deserve our thanks. I agree and wish I had taken the time to thank Mr. Sullivan, my high school English teacher many years ago. He taught me that I had some ability and convinced me — after a long struggle — that it would be disgraceful, even sinful, to waste whatever talent I possessed.

I happened to mention my regret to one of my colleagues, producer Cat (neé Cathlin) McGrath, and a day or two later she shared a story with me. She had gone home that night determined to thank her special teacher, Mr. Roberts, who taught her in fourth grade. Through an internet search she learned that he is now a school superintendent in a Chicago suburb and that he had earned three advanced degrees, including his doctorate from Teachers College in New York City. Cat wrote to tell him that she still had a book he gave her, Dr. Seuss’ “Oh, The Places You’ll Go,” signed with a lovely inscription. In her e-mail thank you note she told Mr. Roberts that she often read it to her young daughter.

It's so easy to reach out and say thanks to one of your favorite teachers. If you do, tweet us @lmtv and tell us how it went.

He responded immediately, as follows:

Dear Cathlin,

I cannot begin to tell you how much your note means to me! Arlene (my wife) and I have thought of you often over the years. We exchanged Christmas Cards with your parents for a while and always asked about your exploits! It is difficult to think of how many years have passed since that 4th grade experience; but I remember you, and a good number of your classmates, as though it was yesterday! What a kind, caring, and intelligent group! Oh! don’t let me forget to say an energetic group as well – your class was a handful; but in the nicest way.

I am so happy to hear you have a daughter; and I can just picture you reading to her! We have a 7-year-old granddaughter and she loves to have her Grammy read to her. Again, thank you so much – you made my day! Please keep in touch and pass our best wishes along to your parents.

Al Roberts

So go ahead, dear readers, make your most important teacher’s day by reaching out to say thanks….

Cat’s story got me energized, and so I sent a note around (via Twitter) about thanking teachers. Anthony Cody, a Board-certified teacher I have gotten to know over the years, responded with his own story, one that demonstrates the impact that teachers have on our lives, not necessarily because they taught us math or science or English, but because they connected with us when we needed it most.

Here’s Anthony’s story:

About eight years ago I saw a news story on TV about a teacher doing amazing things with Shakespeare. The name of the teacher ran by, and I thought perhaps it was Harvey Sadoff, my 5th grade teacher at Lincoln Elementary in Berkeley, from the year 1968. I hunted for his name online, and found I had been mistaken about the person on the news — it was not my teacher. But I did find a Dr. Harvey Sadoff working as a principal at an elementary school in North Carolina. I emailed him a note, and it was my old teacher.
Once I knew it was him, I sent him a longer note with some of my memories and things I appreciated. As as teacher, he was funny and self-effacing, and he allowed the class to adopt a stray dog that wandered onto the playground one day. Back then it seemed like a big deal to know the teacher’s first name, and “Harvey” seemed just right when we discussed what to name the dog. We were not sure how Mr. Sadoff would take it when we told him the dog’s new name, but he just smiled. We took turns taking it home on the weekend, hoping the principal would not find out and banish it. After a month or so, we were found out, and the dog had to go.
I corresponded a bit with Mr. Sadoff, sharing how I had followed his lead and become a teacher myself. Then he sent a note that said that had been his last day as principal. He had cancer and was retiring mid-year because the treatment was making him weak. A few months later I got a note from his wife saying he had passed away.
I cannot remember much about what Mr. Sadoff taught me in terms of reading or math. But I remember his kindness and acceptance, and that was what I needed when I was nine years old. And that was what I tried to bring to my classroom every day.

It’s your turn, folks. Please make the effort. And, if you are so inclined, please share what develops.


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4 Responses to “Thanking Teachers”

  1. Christine Langhoff 04. Oct, 2012 at 11:13 pm #

    I recently retired after teaching for 36 years in the same city. In the past week, I down-sized from my industrial strength desk to a much smaller one (no more grading!). I have always kept any thank-you note I received from my students and have been reading them again as I have reorganized. No other kind of recognition could possibly mean as much.

  2. Parker J. Palmer 06. Oct, 2012 at 8:10 pm #

    First, I want to congratulate you belatedly, John, on winning the 2012 Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Prize in Education, a richly-deserved honor. Your work as a reporter and commentator reassures a lot of us that not all of the great traditions of journalism have been lost! And we’re doubly grateful that your focus is on education, which is so vital to our society and yet so poorly understood (and too often falsely maligned) by politicians, the public, and the press. Second, I want to thank you for this piece on “Thanking Teachers.” I’ve written several thank-you letters, or made personal visits, to the great teachers who’ve blessed my life, and it’s always been a mutually rewarding experience. I’m 73, so most of my great teachers are gone. But I’ve found it equally rewarding for both parties to write a letter or make a call to one of their survivors. Gratitude is the gift that keeps on giving, and God knows teachers need it! Of course, they also need the kind of gratitude that comes via public understanding and respect, constructive educational policy, and creative working conditions. Your advocacy of all of that and more is a big thank-you letter to the entire profession. So thanks to you, as well.

  3. john merrow 08. Oct, 2012 at 4:23 pm #

    Parker
    Reading your words, I am close to speechless. There’s no one who has done more for teachers and teaching than you, and everyone who cares about public education is in your debt, even those who may not have read your writings. Thank you so much….

  4. Jen 10. Oct, 2012 at 10:38 pm #

    I have done this over the years, but my favorite response was from a college history professor. I had taken an interim class to get the required American History course out of the way. In those few weeks, Dr. Jodziewicz taught me to love history, something no other teacher had been able to do. When I emailed him, he responded very quickly, and said that my note was timely. He had just finished an interim session and was pondering whether there was any value to those compacted courses. My thank you made him realize there were.

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