- Over the years, a lot of individuals, including teachers, have impacted your life.
- Take the time to reach out to those people and let them know how much they impacted you.
- Getting that note of appreciation can make a difference.
When I began this journey as an educator over 25 years ago, I did not realize what an impact it would make on my life, let alone the lives of others. I just loved teaching. It was a challenge every day, and it allowed me the ability to create. I loved sharing my love of reading and writing with the younger generations. I loved the relationships I made and the joy they created in my life. But rarely did I think about the impact or the difference I may have made until a few years ago when I began to focus more on gratitude in my own life. Back in 2018, I started to teach my students about gratitude. It all stemmed from a #BookCampPD Twitter chat when Meredith Johnson shared a quote from William Arthur Ward:
can transform common days into
Turn routine jobs into
And change ordinary opportunities into
That quote became the topic of our morning meeting the next day. Thus, a gratitude movement began in my classroom.
My Gratitude Journey
I was so inspired by all the acts of gratitude that I witnessed from my second-grade class that in January of 2019, I set out on a gratitude journey of my own. It started with a long list of people who had impacted my life. I decided that I was going to write them all letters to express my appreciation. I wanted to let them know exactly the difference they had made in my life.
That Special Teacher
On that list was one special teacher. His name was Mr. Toone. He was my 6th-grade teacher. I had thought of him so many times over the years. For a child who was introverted and quiet, sometimes it was difficult to connect with my teachers. More times than not, I felt like an invisible child. There were not many teachers in my life who took the time to notice me and get to know me. But Mr. Toone was different. At that moment, I felt compelled to find him. This man was one of the most influential teachers in my life. And I desperately wanted to find him so I could tell him.For a child who was introverted and quiet, sometimes it was difficult to connect with my teachers. More times than not, I felt like an invisible child. Click To Tweet
I began my search on the district website and then at the middle school where I attended. But I could not find him. Although a tad bit discouraged, I chose to keep looking. Then I turned to Facebook. I could not remember his first name, so I just started looking for the last name Toone in San Diego, California.
I found one!!
Even though it may have been a long shot, I sent him a message anyway: “By chance do you happen to be The Mr. Toone who taught at Meadowbrook Middle School in the 1980s?”
I immediately got a response: “No, that was my brother.”
After reading this, I automatically thought because he said “was my brother” that Mr. Toone had passed on. My hope turned to anguish when I realized that I may not get the opportunity to express my gratitude.
But, I decided to message his brother back and tell him how much I wanted to thank his brother for the tremendous impact that he played in my life so many years prior.
A little later, his brother replied back, “I am sure he would love to hear this. Try this email.”
Complete elation came over me at that moment. I sat down right away to write to him.
My Gratitude Letter to My Teacher, Mr. Toone
Dear Mr. Toone,
I am sure that you do not remember me, but that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that I remember you! I remember the impact you had on an 11 to 12-year-old girl back in the 1981-1982 school year at Meadowbrook Middle School.
That young girl was me—Bridget Levins. I had the pleasure of being in your sixth-grade class. There are many fond memories of you riding your bicycle to school and storing it in your little room/office attached to the classroom. I thought you were so cool!
I did not realize at that time how lucky I was. What a difference you made in my life! I was a quiet young girl. It took a lot for me to open up and share who I was with others. I lacked a lot of self-confidence, but you always made me feel like I mattered and was important.
One of the things I remember most about your class was that you continued to encourage my love of reading. Reading was my favorite subject, and I enjoyed any second that I had with a book. My most favorite time in your class was after lunch when you let us read. Just read! And you let us sit wherever we wanted. I remember laying under my desk—that was my most treasured spot. You do not even know how special that time was for me! Thank you!!!! I have been an elementary teacher for 23 years, and I always remember that example you set, and I make sure that my students have that quiet time with a book—any book that they want.
As I said, I was a very quiet girl. That year I tried out for the cheer team and so did several other girls in your class. I had been a Pop Warner Cheerleader all my years in elementary school, and when I started Meadowbrook, all I wanted was to be a cheerleader. You knew which girls in your class were trying out. After tryouts, they announced over the school intercom all the girls who made it to the next round. My name was not announced. All the other girls in our class made it to the next round. My heart sank, and I just wanted to hide.
Then the person over the intercom said, “Congratulations to all who made it!”
But, YOU said, “ And Congratulations to Bridget for trying her best at tryouts.”
WOW! I remember that to this day! You made me feel valued in my little world that was filled with disappointment and devastation. You made me feel like I still was good enough. Thank you, Mr. Toone, for taking the time to get to know me and acknowledge who I was. What you did created such a pivotal moment in my life. It always warms my heart when I think of you and what you did that day. I cannot thank you enough for taking the time to make me feel special and valued.
Because I was so quiet and shy, there were more times than not in my school life that I felt invisible. But you never made me feel invisible. You made me feel like I mattered and that I was important. You took the time to get to know me. Thank You!!
As an educator now, I always make sure that my “quiet” students do not feel invisible. I take the time to build relationships and get to know my students. I want them to know that they matter and that they are important. That is exactly what you did!
Many times educators do not know the impact that they may make on their students’ lives. I am sure I speak for many—you made a tremendous impact!
I want to take the time to thank you for that sixth-grade year and that day you acknowledged that being me was just enough!
With much gratitude and appreciation,
Bridget Levins Gengler
The Difference It Made
After writing this letter, I sat for a bit, wondering if I should press send.
What if he does not get it?
What if I typed in the wrong email address?
Will it end up in the spam folder and he never sees it?
So many questions popped into my head.
But then my self-talk set in.
This is gratitude!
No matter what happens, he deserves this letter!
So I clicked send and hoped that he would receive it. I hoped that even if I never got a response, it would make a difference in his life.
After a few weeks of wondering where that letter ended up, Mr. Toone responded to my email. When I saw his reply in my inbox, I was so excited and a bit scared to open it.
I sat down in my quiet spot and opened the email. I read and reread this endearing letter from Mr. Toone. I felt like that sixth-grade girl again. Every way that he made me feel when I was in his class came back to me. I sat there and cried. I shared it with my daughter, my son, and my husband. They are witnesses to the power of this gratitude mission that I embarked on.
Mr. Toone’s response is evidence of the ripple effect that I was trying to create.
Below is the letter that I received from Mr. Toone
Please forgive me for waiting so long to reply to your sweet and very welcome sentiments. Expressing gratitude is something most of us (I include myself!) just don’t take the time to do, and I am glad you are making this meaningful point to your own students. I have a dim recollection of the cheerleader selection incident, only because I struggled against that kind of institutional insensitivity throughout my career. I’ve always felt strongly that too many educators, blinded by their laudable desire to make kids feel good about themselves, forget that creating “winners” and “losers” can be more damaging than helpful.
I was always a reader, too, and I’m glad the downtime after lunch gave you some respite and comfort in the midst of the school day. Having an opportunity to “own” a little piece of time in the day to read makes a big difference to people like us. I am so grateful to you for writing, and I’ll be inspired by you to express my own thanks to people who have touched me in a positive way. People like you. I hope that one day you will receive a letter such as the one you sent me.
With warm affection, David[scroll down to keep reading]
Within a month of receiving that reply from Mr. Toone, his hope for me became a reality. A student who was in my fourth grade class years prior sent me a letter of gratitude. She was graduating high school, and she wanted me to know what an impact I had made on her life when she was just a ten-year-old girl.
It is amazing how it all came full circle back to me. Now, I clearly see the impact this profession can make on the lives of others. I truly hope that we can all take the time to thank those important educators in our lives who may have made a difference like Mr. Toone did for me.
I hope that we all have the opportunity to be a part of a ripple effect.
About Bridget Gengler
Bridget Gengler is a fourth-grade teacher in Long Beach, California. She has taught bilingual education, general education, and GATE for the past 26 years. She’s passionate about building relationships and a strong classroom community that opens up doors of success for her students. She strives to empower all students to share their voices and their stories. Her class motto is “ You matter! You are important! You have a story to tell and we want to hear it!” She brings her love of reading and writing to the classroom in the hopes that it will promote lifelong readers and writers.
Bridget believes that self-care is essential in an educator’s life. She takes time to focus on gratitude, mindfulness and kindness during the day. She contributes this balance to her success in the classroom.
Family is number one for her! Her most precious job is being a mom to four young adults, an energetic lab puppy, and a wife to a wonderful husband. When she is not teaching, writing or reading she is creating memories with them. They love to travel, discover new restaurants, and watch professional baseball.