This group contribution from the Teacher Leaders Network is inspired by California’s Day of the Teacher, which falls on May 12, and a timely blog post titled “Thank You Notes” by 2010 National Teacher of the Year finalist Kelly Kovacic, who wrote in part:
One of my advisory students, a young woman I had as a student for seven years, recently sent me a two-page letter. She attached a short note to the letter explaining that after all the letters of recommendation I wrote for her she wanted to write one for me because “you can never have too many letters of recommendation.”
Kovacic went on to offer a few spontaneous letters of recommendation of her own, and TLN members have followed suit. Here are several of their posts from the TLN daily discussion group, where we’ve decided to declare California’s Day of the Teacher a National Day of Recognition.
English teacher Renee Moore is a Milken Award winner and former Mississippi Teacher of the Year. She blogs at TeachMoore.
It is my pleasure to recommend Mrs. Dorothy Grenell, teacher of English for 40 years at East Side High School in Cleveland, Mississippi. I was actually hired to replace her when she retired 20 years ago. The principal insisted that she conduct the interviews for her replacement. Mine was a delightful, 45-minute conversation in late April with her about teaching, the East Side school community, and children—I was a mother of four when I started teaching. When the principal reappeared at the door, he didn’t even acknowledge me, but looked directly at Mrs. Grenell and asked, “What do you think?” Mrs. Grenell graciously answered, “I think she’ll do well.”
But her graciousness did not end there. In August as I was moving into her empty room and wondering where to begin, I heard a knock at the door. It was her husband, with a dolly and several boxes. Mrs. Grenell had saved and sent me many of her books, classroom materials, lessons, and other items to help me start my new career. She also served as my informal mentor during that first year and for the many years since. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to repay her for her recommendation and her confidence in me.
Colorado educator Marjorie Larner is a teaching coach, a leader of the Colorado Critical Friends Group, and author of Pathways: Charting a Course for Professional Learning.
I am writing a recommendation for Dr. Dan Lutz, the principal of Denver Center for International Studies, a 6-12 urban public school. In these times of spin and doublespeak, Dan provides a haven of unerring integrity, honesty, clarity, and consistency, undergirded by a belief in preparing our students for service in a world community. Even with the stress and overwork associated with a new small, school no teacher has chosen to leave this campus in its four years, except for one young man who left to get his doctorate. With a faculty of highly qualified strong-minded individuals, we maintain our sense of community through conflicts, ambitious plans, budget cuts, and directives with Dan’s example of unwavering regard for the potential contribution of every human being. When the political and financial landscape or all that still needs to be done leads me to despair, I am especially thankful to work for someone who cares so much and who can always remind me of our deeper purpose—opening up every opportunity in the world for the students at DCIS.
Shannon C’de Baca teaches high school chemistry and forensic science for the public virtual network Iowa Learning Online. She is a 30-year veteran and Milken Award winner.
The person who jumps into my mind is Emily Vickery, the 21st century learning specialist at a north Florida high school. I follow Emily on Twitter (tons of great technology ideas) and through TLN, where she is a fellow member. Emily is a trailblazer who fearlessly embraced technology when others were holding back. She keeps up with an amazing sphere of innovations and research. It is, however, her grasp of what should change and what should stay the same in education that puts her ahead of most innovators. She is the first person I go to when I have a question about technology and teaching because she has a rich and deep understanding of both.
Bob Williams teaches high school mathematics in Alaska, where he was the 2009 state Teacher of the Year. He recently received an excellence in teaching award from the National Education Association.
Calculus consumed my life the first year I taught AP calculus. I was terrified of making mistakes in instruction, homework load, and in the level of difficulty of assessments. Isolation is common for calculus teachers since many schools only have one section of calculus each year. Chuck Strauss is a phenomenal Anchorage calculus teacher 50 miles from where I teach. I timidly asked him for guidance and he openly shared assignments, resources, and assessments. He welcomed me to observe his classes. On more than one occasion rescued me from deep despair as I tried to understand and explain a complex problem. His openness, transparency, and sharing gave me the confidence to challenge my students to work at much higher levels than if I had been teaching in isolation. I own all of my own failures; however, my successes are shared because I would not be the effective, competent teacher that I am today without the assistance and mentoring of Chuck Strauss.
Literacy coach and new-teacher mentor Cindi Rigsbee is the 2009 North Carolina Teacher of the Year and author of Finding Mrs. Warnecke, a book about the teacher who helped shape Rigsbee’s early life.
I have had the honor recently to write graduate school recommendations for several beginning teachers who are in their first three years in the classroom. Although I could list many veteran teachers I’ve had through the years who are deserving of such praise, some of our colleagues who are new to the profession are deserving of praise, too. I was so excited to write a letter for Jenny, my mentee. Here’s an excerpt:
“Last year I served as Jenny’s mentor while she was a first year teacher. I can truly say that she would have survived very well without me. She came to teaching prepared for all of the nuances—from classroom management to curriculum design to leadership; Jenny presented herself as an experienced teacher, much more capable than her teaching years would suggest.
Currently, Jenny serves as the grade level chair, a job that usually is held by someone with more experience. It is apparent to our administrators that she has the leadership ability and organizational skills that it takes to carry out those important duties. Meanwhile, Jenny is the cheerleading coach, a job she does with passion and excitement. Jenny’s cheerful personality and strong work ethic have made her an asset to the community of the school.”
Writing recommendations for those beginning to teach strengthens our profession as we support their efforts to grow and learn more about what’s best for kids.
Kathie Marshall is a middle grades literacy teacher and coach in inner-city Los Angeles. She writes frequently about teaching policy and practice for Teacher and other publications.
My letter of recommendation goes to Ms. Xochitl Cortez, who has been a sixth grade teacher at my middle school for the past seven years. To all who enter her room and have the privilege of observing her in action, Xochitl is a phenomenal teacher. Even the NCLB team who visited our campus for three days commented: “Oh, you have a lot of great teachers here, but Xochitl Cortez—she’s fantastic!” She is both creative and tireless in her efforts, and her instruction is seamless. She moves easily from English to history to science to math: a true multi-subjects teacher. As a favor to her literacy coach at the time (me) she even “volunteered” to teach our two-hour reading intervention course for several years. Each child whose life she touches is better for having known her. She connects deeply with her Latino students and knows just how to draw from their language and experiences to support their learning and develop their confidence. She is stellar among the hundreds of teachers I have known in nearly four decades as a teacher. I highly recommend her for any position anywhere; she is a shining star.
Sadly, Xochitl Cortez is leaving our school at the end of this school year, a victim of deep budget cuts. She is irreplaceable, and the loss of her talents is heart-wrenching.
Before becoming the 8th grade English teacher at San Diego Cooperative Charter School, Ellen McClurg Berg taught in inner-city St. Louis, Missouri. She writes regularly for the TeachersCount group blog.
Dear Mrs. Shew: You probably don’t remember me, but I was a very shy, very quiet kindergartener in your class in 1974. I want to tell you that you changed my life and set me on the path to becoming a teacher. No other teacher in my K-12 experience held quite the same magic or power that you did. I am a teacher because of you.
I remember the day the gingerbread man we made disappeared from the cafeteria while he was baking. We walked all over the school searching for him. We ended up in the principal’s office, all 20-something of us crowded into his room, where we discovered the gingerbread man hiding! We found out that the principal was a really nice guy. We took the gingerbread man back to our classroom and ate him.
I remember playing instruments, shaking buttermilk until it became butter, story time, and the super cool little kitchen we could play with. Most of all I remember how safe I felt in your classroom. It was a place where nothing bad could happen to me, where learning was fun, and where the 5th graders couldn’t sing “Kindergarten babies” to us like they did when I walked to school.
You worked with kids at the beginning, and I just want you to know you made a huge difference in my life. You are the gold standard of teachers, the teacher I strive to be every single day. Thank you for being the teacher you were.
P.S. Thank you also for reprimanding Sarah for pinching me.
Who would you send a letter of recommendation to?