Inspired by Kovacic's example, members of the Teacher Leaders Network daily discussion group set about writing thank-you notes and letters of recommendation of their own. A selection will appear today at the Teacher Magazine website. The rest, which we are sharing here, will be linked to the Teacher article. We encourage you to offer a thank you or recommendation letter of your own!
Tayor Ross is a young first-grade teacher in Birmingham, Alabama. She serves on the Governor’s Teacher Quality Commission and is featured in multimedia that demonstrates state teaching quality standards.
Dear Mrs. Gaffney-Hsu,
When I entered your English class in ninth grade, it was like a dream come true. You were intelligent, thought-provoking, and interesting. You asked us questions that forced us to consider opinions and beliefs outside of ourselves. You helped me recognize a deep appreciation for writing that I didn't know existed. On a personal level, you began to invest in me as a student and friend. Your commitment to my learning, my confidence, and my overall well-being was a testament to your character. So much, in fact, that I remained a student of yours in the Theatre Department for two more years, choosing to stay behind the curtain with props and directing.
I will never forget the many hours we spent after school and on weekends in rehearals and preparations, but mostly I remember how most of us were dedicated because it meant we could share more time with you. You encouraged me to always expect more from myself, to be honest and compassionate when dealing with others, and to use my gifts and talents to make the world a better place. As a student in your classroom, I never dreamed I would end up in the same profession as you..but in all honesty, I don't think I would have if you hadn't shown me the impact one teacher can have. Thank you for being the teacher you are -- and were -- to students who needed you the most.
Cossondra George teaches seventh grade mathematics and social studies in rural Michigan. Her article for new teachers, “Taming the Dragon of Classroom Chaos,” is a perennial favorite at Teacher Magazine.
Kelly Kovacic inspired me to write this "letter of recommendation" for Mrs. Fair, my own 7th grade math teacher. During my years of school, I had many wonderful teachers who touched me in personal ways, serving to create the “me” of today who now teaches middle school. However, of all those teachers, Mrs. Fair stands out as the one who made the most significant difference in my life. When she came to our junior high -- young, pretty, in her impeccable clothes -- all of the girls looked up to her, wanting to be like her some day. She always looked the part of the perfect teacher, and best of all, she smelled wonderful! We were entranced from the start.
Once we got past being mesmerized by her picture perfect appearance, we discovered this wonderful, soft spoken, caring, kind, patient, guiding person who pushed us further than we'd ever been pushed before. Math had always been mundane, something I had done with rote patience, a task to be completed. But with Mrs Fair, math became exciting, engaging, a subject that made my mind twist and turn, thinking about concepts in a new way. I was hooked, forever hooked on math!
Even when I was struggling, she encouraged me. When I was confused, she believed in me. When I wanted to give up, she pushed me harder. Seventh grade was a turning point for me. I learned how to be a student, how to experience success through unconditional teaching. Mrs. Fair was the reason. And the reason I would someday stand in front of 7th graders, trying to impart the same skills to them in the way she did to me.
It's not particularly hard to identify the most influential teachers in my life as I think about them time and time again, year after year. Miss Dmytryk (5th grade), with her inexplicably frequent reminders that "Patience is a virtue we must all strive to possess," and who once commented, "I think you're going to be a writer some day - or a comedian!" (...) However, realizing this is "Day of the Teacher" and wanting to play by the rules, and recognizing it would be cheating to pick my wife, I want to write my letter of recommendation for one teacher only. I choose Mark Springer. (read more...)
Middle grades teacher Bill Ferriter teaches language arts and social studies in North Carolina, where he was a regional teacher of the year. His second book, Teaching the iGeneration, will be published by Solution Tree this fall.
Thank You, Mrs. Morosini, for being one of the most challenging teachers that I ever had the chance to learn from. I've got to say that when I walked into your fifth grade classroom as an active 10 year old boy, I was scared to death! I'd heard rumors about how strict you were from everyone in my neighborhood, and those rumors were confirmed on the first day of school when you yelled at me for whispering to Karen Swiderski!
"Billy," you said, "Is that REALLY the impression you want to make on the first day of school!"
I wilted under your glare, but that was a pattern that repeated itself about a thousand times from August to June too, wasn't it? There was something about being in a class with all of my buddies that made an already distractable kid even more distracted! Whether I was talking out of turn to Brian Bushcowski, letting Karen cheat off of my math papers, or whipping up fart juice with Paul Pfluger, I had to be more than an handful, huh?
And you were definitely the hammer of justice! If we could go back and dig up my discipline records from your classroom, they'd make a great read today. It's kind of surprising that we both survived, actually----especially after Battlestar Galactica left Paul and I inspired enough to shout regularly about the chocolate covered Cylons coming out of our butts while coming in from recess each day.
Somewhere in the thousand "warm conversations" that you and I shared, you said something that has defined who I am as a person, though. You said, "Bill, it takes a long time to earn someone's trust and respect and only one stupid mistake to lose it all."
That made sense to my tweenage brain----and it has served as a constant reminder to me in every relationship since. I can even hear your voice when I'm standing on the edge of a tricky decision that could change what others think of me and MOST of the time, I choose to avoid the stupid mistakes that defined me as a child.
Kind of wild, isn't it? You were the teacher that was the hardest on me as a child. I can honestly say that I'm not sure I enjoyed a moment of your class while I was living it. But you're also one of the teachers who has shaped who I am as a man. For that, I owe you one!
After a long career as an elementary educator and adjunct instructor at Brown University, Marti Schwartz returned to the classroom this year as a literacy teacher in a high needs Rhode Island high school.
Dear Miss Gloria DelPapa: This is long overdue. There are so many things I never told you. First: you were the teacher who felt like you knew me and cared about me...which was especially important during my senior year, when I felt like all of my anchors had been set adrift. My mother had remarried and moved out of state, a close friend had been killed in a car accident, and I felt I had no connections left with high school. But you cared. You let us see your human side. We knew that your "beau" had been killed in Vietnam, which made our strong protests against the war a bit gentler in your presence, as the war had a human face.
You let us write poetry that expressed the teenage angst we needed to let out, and you wrote warm, encouraging comments on our work. It is because of you that this year, 40 years out of high school, I had my own students read Spoon River Anthology poems aloud and write their own. When I recently located the one I wrote (way back then) it was dreadful - but I remember the power that finding my own voice gave me, and it was a joy to give it to my current students. Yes, it's because of you that I am a teacher. Thanks.
David B. Cohen is a National Board-certified English teacher in Palo Alto, California. He is a co-founder of Accomplished California Teachers and writes for their group blog, InterACT.
In the fall of 1986, my senior class at Harvard High School in North Hollywood, CA, arrived at school to find a new administrator sitting in the office of the Head of Upper School. John Butler had come to us from the East Coast, with his wife and two young children, and he immediately became a part of our family as well. He had a warm voice and a gracious smile, and a brightness in his eyes that I can still see almost 24 years later.
At some point early in the year, he encouraged us to drop into his office to introduce ourselves and visit with him. I was the kind of student who would take up an offer like that, and it became a habit in no time, to stop into Mr. Butler's office when I was passing by his open door and had a moment to spare. I wish I could recall the content of some of our conversations, but at the same time, I'm sure that what mattered more was having such a kind and friendly educator who took an interest in me, and would sometimes set aside his work just to chat with a student.
In the spring of 1987, we were devastated to learn that Mr. Butler had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Our senior year would turn out to be Mr. Butler's only year at Harvard. I understand that he returned to the East Coast, and I don't know much more than that. But during our graduation ceremonies, there was a moment I'll never forget. Another faculty member on the stage asked us to acknowledge Mr. Butler, and our class stood in perfect unison to applaud and honor him. I wished that ovation could have lasted long enough to convey the depth of my feelings of thankfulness and sorrow. I was moved to tears then, and even writing this now stirs those old emotions. He became to me a model for how to embrace new situations with open enthusiasm, how to welcome new people into your life, how to treat young people with sincere interest and respect, and how to confront tragedy with bravery and grace.
I wish to God I could have said these things to him and to his family back then. John Butler was not my teacher in a classroom, but the lessons I learned from him made me a better man.
Joanie Hovatter is a teacher leader now serving as a middle grades assistant principal in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.
Kristina Zaccaria came to our brand new middle school in rural Page County, Virginia this past year. Excitement, Energy, and Enthusiasm come to mind when describing Kristina. She is a positive educator because she has organized a Character Counts group with some of our more challenging, emotionally charged students; found multiple ways to bring good morale boosters to the building (a Teacher Feature bulletin board; special occasion notes; monthly, huge birthday celebrations for students and staff, etc.). Kristina arrives way before school and stays late---way late! (Well beyond 6:00 pm when the heels are kicked off and the feet are surely tired).
Her room has the comfortable details (the black, fuzzy chair) for folks who are having a terrible day; coffee; and chocolate. She has organized shopping sprees at a local WalMart at 5:00 am to get supplies needed for her students or to prepare a feast for the entire staff. She escorted one of our students to a hospital on a recent weekend, arriving nearly 6 hours after the school day ended, only to find out later the student was transferred to another hospital. Sure enough, "Ms. Z" drove the three hours to that hospital as well. In her first year, Kristina Zaccaria is a special education teacher who connects, cares, and creates ways to make everything around her better!
Milken winner Jane Fung is a kindergarten teacher and new-teacher mentor in Los Angeles. She titles this contribution "Thank You Rowena Lagrosa."
I was lucky enough to have you mentor and push me to new heights in my early years of teaching at White House Place Primary Center. I never would have become the teacher leader I am today without your guidance and example of what an educational leader should be. You challenged me by asking me to do things I never had done before. I wrote and won my first grant when you encouraged and supported me through the process. You somehow knew that I would enjoy being a mentor and assigned student teachers and interns to my classroom even before I knew I was ready to lead others. You created an environment where teachers could grow and learn from one another and that students always came first.
I learned how to be a more effective teacher under your leadership. You inspired me to always keep learning and growing as a teacher and a leader. Thank you for believing in me and helping me see how much of a difference I can make in the lives of others. Love, Jane
Michelle Wise Capen teaches elementary grades in western North Carolina and is a trustee of the North Carolina Teacher Academy, a research-based teaching and learning organization powered by teacher leaders.
To Whom It May Concern;
I would like to strongly recommend Mrs. Nanci Nance for this position. She completed over 30 years as a high school English teacher, creating a love of learning and an atmosphere of creativity, while instilling a strict regard for the demands of English grammar and correct citations. She is a team player and is able to coach young people through the demands of interpersonal relationships in the workplace while still recognizing and developing independence and innovative ideas. She has been the model for many young people who have chosen the teaching profession as a career, as well as mentoring a number of doctors, lawyers, judges, clergy and business people into their current professions. She has an amazing sense of humor, and is able to redirect large groups of teenagers through Herman Melville texts when they would prefer to write humorous tracts to post upon school lockers.
I am proud to say that Mrs. Nance was a mentor to me through my high school career. I was fortunate enough to be in her classroom for two years of English. She continues to influence me today as I teach students; through my instructional techniques, my respect for my students' ideas and creativity, and my high expectations of student quality. I say, "Thank you, thank you, Mrs. Nance." Any organization will be the better for her presence.
High school English teacher Stacey Donaldson is the 2009-10 Mississippi teacher of the year. She recommends "the Griffith Tag-Team."
I recommend Mr. Leon Griffith and Mrs. Erma Griffith. This administrator/teacher duo played a large role in helping me to become the successful individual that I am. I remember being the good kid that didn't cause any trouble, always did my work and had good family support, but at the same time, I was screaming silently for someone to take notice of me. I can't remember how but Mrs. Griffith was the one. I was a shy kid, but Mrs. Griffith took time to nurture the talent I had. She put me in talent shows and further groomed me for pageantry, which made me competitive and marketable in high school, college, and in my first career as a broadcast journalist. I still use the skills she taught me.
Mr. Griffith, quiet yet just as supportive, was always willing to take me home no matter how late we practiced ( believe me, we had some late practices). I remember also the trust he placed in me to make good decisions. He trusted me to run an errand in his car. I probably would have never done that, but I'm grateful that he did. I will never be able to repay the Griffiths for the time and effort they invested in helping my parents mold and shape me into the professional that I have become. Even after I became a teacher, they played a major role in making sure I joined a professional organization and supported me in my new role as an educator.
I am the professional I aspire every day to be because of the precious seeds they planted. Thank you for this opportunity to praise and recommend educators who made a difference not just in my life but in the lives of so many other students across the state of Mississippi and the nation.