Thank a Teacher

by Jean Tower

Teachers make a difference. Good teachers recognize your unique talents and “you-ness” and nurture them.

Matt Damon was a keynote speaker at the Save Our School March in Washington DC on July 30th. He was introduced by his mother, who teaches at Lesley University in Boston. His keynote was both eloquent and emotional and has resonated with many across the country and the world.

Here is a brief excerpt from his remarks.

I had incredible teachers.
My teachers were empowered to teach me. My teachers were free to approach me like an individual puzzle. They were allowed to be teachers. […]

This has been a horrible decade for teachers, and I can’t imagine how demoralized you guys must feel. But I came here today to deliver an important message to you, and I really hope you can hear it. As I get older, I appreciate more and more the teachers that I had growing up, and I’m not alone. There are millions of people just like me. So the next time you are feeling down, or exhausted, or unappreciated, or at the end of your rope – the next time you turn on the TV and see yourself being called overpaid, the next time you encounter some simple-minded, punitive policies that have been driven into your life by some corporate reformer who has literally never taught anyone anything, please, please, please know that there are millions of us behind you. You have an army of regular people standing right behind you and our appreciation for what you do is so deeply felt, we love you, we thank you and we will always have your back.

I keep thinking about his message that millions of people have teachers to thank, in part, for who they have become and they love them. I remember so many teachers who gave me many, many things – keys to discovering and unlocking my passions, encouragement, even financial assistance. So I will write about a few of those special individuals today, to thank them and to thank all teachers who continue the journey with passion, hard work, and little pay or thanks from the politicians and policy-makers. I suggest to all of you, if you ever had a teacher who made a difference in your life, to write a public thank you – let the corporate-minded reformers know that teaching is more than getting students ready for tests.

My thank you list is long, but here are a few of my teachers who I will always remember and who I thank.

In first grade I dislocated my hip and was on crutches for six months. Miss Baldwin, my first grade teacher, carried me up and down the stairs of the Johnson Elementary School in Natick to my classroom every day for six months. She did not want me to fall hopping up and down, which was my plan for navigating the stairs. Having started first grade already reading and writing, Miss Baldwin let me correct spelling tests, help pick the words for the next week, and challenged me with extra credit work all the time, just what I needed.

In fifth grade, Lois Webster was my teacher and I thought she was the coolest. She played the saxophone and encouraged us all to find our creative outlets. Back when differentiation wasn’t even a word common in teachers’ rooms, she found exciting ways for each of her students to get excited about learning. I remember creating floor plans, figuring out areas, designing buildings, and making scale models – she was awesome.

In sixth grade, Mr. Capone was funny and smart and taught me how to play chess. (I already knew the rules and how pieces moved, but I didn’t really know how to play.)

At Coolidge Junior High School, there were many teachers who inspired, challenged, and taught me well. Those who stand out in my memory are Mr. Levinson (science), Miss Mahaney (English), Mr. Giorgi (math), Miss Boyd (phys ed), Mr. Keaney (latin), Miss Tutuny (social studies) and an English teacher whose name escapes me at the moment but who made me laugh and feel special by saying things like, “move along ladies – you, too Miss Tower.”  Mr. Giorgi would deliver a long explanation of how to solve an algebra problem and then ask me how I solved it, knowing it would be slightly different. I love that he respected and enjoyed the differences!

At Natick High School, Mr. Bransfield (math) was the man. Dr. Johnson and Mr. Overlook (both math) still shine as stars in my memory.  Mr. Murray helped keep my love of science alive, reminding us all to stay curious and investigative. In college and graduate school, both at the University of Massachusetts and at Boston University, I continued to be motivated and encouraged by inspiring teachers. One special professor, Dr. Patricia Davidson, even paid for my classes one semester when I said I had to drop out of the Master’s program because I was broke and had a little baby to take care of. She would not hear of it. She could not imagine me being delayed or maybe permanently detoured, for lack of a couple thousand dollars (I was a teaching assistant and tuition was free – it was fees and books I could not afford). She wrote me a check on the spot and told me to pay back whenever I could.

As I think about all of these teachers who I love and need to thank, I recall that they all connected with me as a person – they revealed something of themselves – their passions, their humor, and their humanity and they brought something out in me. They roused my own passions, helped me to discover what I loved, helped me to think about thinking and learning, and made me want to go into education.

Thank you, teachers.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jennifer W August 4, 2011 at 11:46 pm

I have been blessed to have had MANY great teachers throughout my school years.

I remember guppies with Mrs. Prejan as a kindergarten student and Genuine Junk with Mrs. Matsubiashi in 2nd. Mr. D’Ornellas made his name a spelling word and I learned spelling could be fun. In 6th grade, Mr. Thomas shared with me how to be bold with my faith. Mr. Old and Mr. Essex in High School saw my hidden talents of love of writing and love of history. Dr. Tiffin (in college) let me take verbal tests because I did horrid on multiple choice and Dr. Sharon Vliet was both my professor and my friend.

I have wandered through many learning opportunities and the teachers who I remember demonstrated the 3 most important aspects that I have carried into my days as I work with students (of all ages worldwide.)
a. You have to make learning fun — creative — memorable
b. You have to know your student MORE than just their name in your gradebook.
c. Sometimes the most important things that are taught in the classroom are life lessons — integrity, honesty, kindness, faith, and hope.


Jean Tower August 6, 2011 at 1:39 pm

Jen – Thanks for sharing. I love your list of 3 “rules” that inform your work.

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