Last week at a family dinner my mom handed me a letter that had arrived at her house for me. Puzzled, I opened it -- and what I read made my mouth fall open with surprise and enchantment.
It was a handwritten letter from Bob Jacobs, a seventh-grade science teacher at my alma mater, Mill Valley Middle School (MVMS) in Mill Valley, California. He had just retired and - already feeling nostalgic - written a letter reflecting on his career and thanking his students for their part in it. He photocopied and sent this letter to every former MVMS student he could find, nearly 600, costing over $300 in copies and postage. You always hear about students coming back years later to thank their teachers. But a teacher thanking students? That touched my heart.
Bob Jacobs with Edutopia senior producer Grace Rubenstein at her eighth-grade graduation in 1993.
Funny thing is, I wasn't even Mr. Jacobs's student. He taught some of my friends, and he was the advisor to the student ecology club that I was in. His gentle, kindly manner and ready smile made him a friend to many students, me included. He was the kind of teacher you would stop in just to say hi to, and whom you would confide in if you had a personal problem (which middle school students tend to have!).
I thought this letter would provide you, new and veteran teachers alike, a dose of optimism and conviction as you start the new school year (and Mr. Jacobs said it was OK to share it). This is what teaching is all about. You can read it below or download Mr. Jacobs's handwritten version, complete with the short personal note he inked to me. Be sure to read to "Page 2" -- it's my favorite part.
Best wishes for this year, and may you all be lucky enough to love your work as much as Mr. Jacobs has.
-- Grace Rubenstein, Edutopia Senior Producer
To the graduating classes from 1997-2009
(Mr. Jacobs wrote slightly different versions of the letter to different graduating classes.)
July 10, 2010
After 11 years at South San Francisco High, ten years at Zuni High School on the Zuni Indian Reservation in New Mexico, two years at Santa Rosa Junior High, and 19 fantastic years at MVMS -- for a total of 42 years covering parts or all of six decades -- I have retired. I am leaving with mixed emotions. I will not miss grading papers or teacher meetings, but I will miss everything that has to do with students -- even the after-school "meetings" that often lasted beyond 5:00.
While I realize that your lives have become more complex since 7th grade, I wanted to recognize you and let you know that you have not been forgotten. Many of you have changed your addresses -- some of you have married and changed your names -- some of you have changed so much physically that I would have difficulty recognizing you, but I am still very much interested in what you are doing. All of the student pictures and all of the endangered species posters have been taken down, but the incredible memories of the past 19 years at MVMS will always remain. What I am most proud of is that my enthusiasm, dedication, and passion for teaching never disappeared. You were my inspiration and I thank you. My last year was as high energy as any year in my career. My wish for all of you is that you have such a rewarding and passionate career. It would be great to see you in the future so I can hear about all of your outstanding successes.
I'm sorry I could not write a more personal letter but I have written about 600+ letters. Look for me to be on Facebook by the end of the summer. That is too hard to imagine!!
Some of my accomplishments and what I enjoyed most about teaching:
1. Being able to do things my way!! I never got caught up in trends. I never compromised my style of teaching.
2. Giving students an appreciation of science.
3. Occasionally inspiring students.
4. Adequately preparing students for high school.
5. Making students feel safe when they entered my classroom.
6. Supporting students during their sometimes difficult middle school years.
7. The positive energy and enthusiasm of students when they were in Room 25.
8. Genetics, the endangered species project, the disease project, the microscope (cheek cells, onion skin cells, etc.), the planaria lab, the earthworm dissection, worm parasites (beef tapeworm), protozoans (amoeba, paramecium, African sleeping sickness and the tsetse fly), etc. etc.
9. 8th grade day every Thursday.
10. Attending events at MVMS and Tam High, such as the talent show, spring play, Tam drama, chorus concerts, mock trial, world affairs, and sports. I never got tired of any of them.
11. Trips to Washington/NY, Europe, and even China with students. Over 500 students participated.
12. "Hanging out" with students before school, during lunch, and after school. I never had a bad moment with you great kids.
My future plans include:
1. Continuing to attend events and hang out with students.
2. Become a part-time sub at MVMS, especially for the 8th graders.
3. Run for the Mill Valley School Board in November 2011. Register to vote!! Tell your parents, friends, and neighbors to vote for JACOBS!! I am serious even though it sounds funny.
4. Travel Travel Travel -- I already have planned a trip to Peru and the rainforests of Peru, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, and a European river cruise.
5. Be invited by old students, like you, to major events such as recitals, graduations, weddings??? Don't forget me -- I will be very positive, spirited, enthusiastic.