Small Gifts That Are Forever Life-Changing: A Superintendent’s Message of Gratitude
To compliment this post, please see: “On Gratitude: Finding Time To Say Thank You To Those Who Have Inspired” written by Robyn Shulman at Chicago Now.
Written by a very special guest: Dr. Guy Schumacher, School Superintendent, Libertyville Elementary School District 70
I am currently the Superintendent of Schools in Libertyville, IL. In my 27th year as an educator, I have for the past several years talked about my favorite teacher, Miss Martin. Having moved to a new community in the summer before 2nd grade, I was anxious and nervous on my first day of school, nearly 5 decades ago, at Douglas MacArthur School in Hoffman Estates, IL.
Little did I know that I would be talking about Miss Martin, and the many stories I remember about her, 47 years later. Miss Martin, coincidentally married my 6th grade teacher, Mr. Richards, and I have never forgotten the many gifts these educators brought to my life.
In a search as to where they are today and with a commitment of sharing all that I remember about their impression on my life, I searched the Internet to find them.
To sum it all up, we met for dinner on a beautiful autumn evening, last November. It was, without question, an extraordinary night of catching up, sharing stories and the opportunity for me to share with two wonderful educators the impact they made on a very young boy.
Below is a copy of a letter I mailed to them this fall.
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Richards,
Before I begin by thanking you both, I need to apologize for imposing as I clarify who I am, and why I searched to find you…
As a new second grade boy at Douglas MacArthur Elementary School in Hoffman Estates, I recall walking into my classroom in 1967, seeing my teacher as she welcomed and greeted me with a warm and encouraging smile. Needless to say, the moment stayed with me… forever. By sixth grade, as a dedicated student, I had grown to value school and quite honestly two of the teachers I had there, Miss Martin and Mr. Richards.
Here I am, decades later, a school Superintendent in a wonderful community, writing to share that you both are thought of and to let you know how much you meant to me. I genuinely apologize for having never said it sooner. As another school year starts, I am somehow compelled to share with you how grateful I am for the presence you had in my life. My friends, colleagues and educator mother (now passed) have all encouraged me to write to you. Honestly, I think that, in all these years, they can’t believe I hadn’t. So today, I sit at my desk, thinking back to my elementary school years and can only hope that the impressions you made on me as a child are offered to the children in Libertyville School District 70 from the staff with whom I work.
I often share the story of winning a candy cane on that December morning in 2nd grade for correctly spelling ‘Illinois’. I also recall, one day, having my desk moved to the side of Miss Martin’s – I believe to keep me from talking – and yet, I could not have been more delighted to be placed there. I remember walking with Miss Martin to show Miss Left how I grew in reading and learned to accurately point in the directions North, South, East and West. I remember feeling safe in my teacher’s presence as we couched in the corridor as the threat of a tornado loomed above us. And how, if I placed my bagged lunch comprising a cheese sandwich on the hallway radiator in the morning, I had a toasted cheese sandwich by lunchtime!
While other school memories quickly faded, I recall in 6th grade, as if it were yesterday, that Mr. Richards cared. He, in the early 70s, knew the importance of strong academic development, as well as social-emotional growth, a rare trait indeed as he assisted me at a time of social challenge and acceptance. Conversations of support and encouragement motivated me to consistently achieve, just as he had planned. For these reasons, and for all that you both taught me, I will forever be grateful. I simply wanted to let you know that I have never forgotten you and will always appreciate you.
While I’m certain you made a difference in the lives of so many during your careers, you made a profound impact in mine. I sincerely thank you for all that you did for me, that new boy in Hoffman Estates who so fortunately spent time into your classrooms.
With tremendous gratitude and years of respect,