I was pleased recently to find the address of my first grade teacher. In thinking about my school experiences, I’ve discovered a few things about education. Below is the text of the letter I sent her. As you read, consider what thing will remain years hence when students look back at their time in your classroom.
As hard as it is for me to believe, it has been 30 years since I was a student in your first grade class. When I think about my education in elementary school, I do so with fondness. I’m sorry to say that I don’t really remember any “content” that you taught me. I know that I learned reading and math skills in your class that have served me for my entire life–setting a strong foundation for the learning that was to come. But those aren’t the things that stick out to me when I reflect on first grade. No; what I remember most are the experiences that you provided us and the love that you poured on us. I realize that the “golden days” look more golden as we look back, but I am sure that all of my fond memories are rooted in reality. I remember standing on the front sidewalk using index cards to view a partial solar eclipse. I remember your fortune-telling magic (that you later revealed as merely a trick). I remember your stories, your laugh, and your love. I remember some textbook samples that you gave me at the end of the school year–they were treasured by me for years to come–valuable resources for playing school at home. I also know that you made me feel that school was the place for me, and that it was fun.
As a teacher, when I look back, I am reminded of what really matters in education, of the things that last. Today, high-stakes testing, changing curriculum, intrusion from politicians and the business world, and teacher evaluation threaten to forever alter education, removing those things that really matter. But, I am constantly reminded that the things that last are not curricula, testing, and evaluation; they are experiences and love. The same things that leap forth from my recollections of your class. These lessons learned from you are some of the most important I’ve ever learned about teaching.
Were you to step into one of my classes, I hope that you’d catch a glimpse of the love that you shared with us being poured out to my students. I hope you’d see your fun-loving spirit (though I can’t copy your smile) flowing through me after all of these years. As the pressures mount, I work harder and harder, but I always want to remember what lasts and leave a legacy for my students like the one you left for me and all of your students.