A gift for you and a great teacher


A gift for you and a great teacher

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Joe Nathan

Joe Nathan

Today we’ll talk about giving you, the reader, two gifts. Here are two ways to do this.

First, please remember a favorite teacher. Write her or him a thank you note and send it.

I’ll never forget my middle school music teacher, Jim Hardy. He was as kind and gracious in responding to my note as he was 40 years earlier when my voice was changing and my singing was awful. The same was true for Richard Crouter, a college religion professor who helped me (and many others) through the trauma of the 1960s.

The second gift is to buy a copy of “Thank You, Teacher,” edited by Holly and Bruce Holbert. Holly initiated this book, which has brief letters from more than 80 famous people thanking their favorite teachers. The book began when Holly decided to honor her husband’s more than 30 years as an English and social studies teacher. Published by New World Library this year, it’s one of the most moving, uplifting books I’ve read in many years. You can comment about a teacher on their Facebook page, “Thank you, teacher.”

Holly and Bruce Holbert (Photo courtesy of Bruce Holbert)

Holly and Bruce Holbert (Photo courtesy of Bruce Holbert)

Holly wrote in the introduction, “What we don’t hear much about are those teachers like Bruce that quietly go about affecting thousands of children’s lives for the good.”

More than 150 people responded to Holly’s request. She explains, “Most wrote about a teacher who changed the course of their lives and was a big reason they became the accomplished adults they are today.”

Here’s what some of them wrote.

John Glenn, astronaut and U.S. senator, described his high school civics course in New Concord, Ohio: “Mr. Steele’s course lit a fire in me that never did go out.”

Jim Belushi recalled that in a film class taught by Richard Holgate at the College of DuPage: “We fought all the time. … He didn’t want me to change my opinion so much as he wanted to push me to recognize why I held it. … (He taught me) to be serious about the things that really mattered to me. Those things turned out to be theater and film.”

Anne Perry, a best-selling author, wrote about her high school mathematics teacher: “Ms. Milne was marvelous. All the lights in my head came on.”

Singer Rosanne Cash described Walter Sullivan, an English professor: “He was tough … kind, articulate and extraordinarily encouraging. … Walter taught liberation in the same breath that he taught structure. … I owe him an enormous debt and I am tremendously grateful to have studied under him.”

Author and activist Maya Angelou wrote of Annie Henderson, her grandmother: “Like most good teachers, her most important lessons did not come from a book. She taught me how to be a human being and to have dignity.”

Lee Greenwood, country-music singer, wrote that his high school music teacher, Fred Cooper, “understood his students and gave them choices that made sense to them.”

Daisy Martinez, chef and TV personality, explained that she did not speak English in the first grade, but that her teacher, Mrs. Sharlon “took the extra time I needed, teaching me to read, to enunciate, to learn English and most important, she taught me a love of reading, which I value to this day. … I remember her kindness, patience and enthusiasm.”

Andrew Gross, author of five New York Times best-sellers, recalls that his first-grade teacher “saw promise in a young boy, fifty years ago. Thank you, Rosemary Gumpel.”

Thank you, great teachers, and thank you, Holly and Bruce Holbert. They produced a beautiful book of love, joy, appreciation and admiration.

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, is director of the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome at joe@centerforschoolchange.org.