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Dear Ms. Hayward: A Teacher Appreciation Week Thank You

May 07, 2012

Every year, on National Teacher Appreciation Day, I think of Ms. Ellen Hayward, my high school Spanish teacher and say a quiet thank you. In truth, twenty-five thousand teachers and five million students join me in thanking Ms. Hayward.  Let me explain how this one teacher has unwittingly affected the lives of so many.

When I was a junior in high school I knew I was a pretty good student, but this teacher made me believe that I was an outstanding student and a champ at Spanish.  She worked to convince my parents that college was possible and, more importantly, desirable for the daughter whom they had expected to work in a store like her father. 

Ms. Hayward made me believe that I was an outstanding student and a champ at Spanish.

Ms. Hayward urged me to apply for a summer language program in Mexico — an educational adventure beyond my wildest dreams and one that required her to come to my family’s house to persuade my reluctant parents. She not only won them over, she helped raise money for the fees. I went to Mexico where my Spanish soared along with my academic motivation and sense of self-worth.  To this day I still have the encouraging letters she sent me that summer.

Jump ahead 40 years. 

I did indeed go to college and even graduate school.  I majored in Spanish and became a teacher like Ms. Hayward. While teaching in the Santa Cruz public schools, I was invited to help University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC) design a Bilingual Teacher Education Program and eventually I became the Director of Teacher Education.

After my own distressing experience as a beginning teacher, I was seeing UCSC graduates struggling in their early years, frequently dropping out of their chosen career in frustration.  A review of the national data indicated that we weren’t unique; about half of new teachers leave the profession for good before they even have time to become highly effective.

These factors, and my personal knowledge that great teachers make all the difference, led me in 1998 to found the New Teacher Center , a national non-profit focused on the critical need to support new teachers with the goal of creating dedicated, highly effective instructors for every student regardless of the zip code they are born into.

Most American teachers now have 10 years of experience or less; with the Baby Boom retirement wave cresting, new teachers are the future of American education. I have dedicated my career to ensuring that all of the nation’s students get the expert teachers they deserve—effective teachers that remain in the profession and their schools. 

This year alone, as a result of our programs , twenty-five thousand new teachers will have benefitted from a mentor and as a result, five million US students will have a more effective teacher at the front of their classrooms. 

Ms. Hayward was the embodiment of the commonly acknowledged wisdom that a great teacher makes a huge and permanent difference  in her students’ lives.  I’m grateful for having been able to pay forward the difference she made to my life, and especially grateful to know that the chain reaction she started is helping build more great teachers like her who are positively impacting the lives of many more students today.

I’ve never been able to locate Ms. Hayward, but maybe she’ll hear it if all of the twenty-fivethousand teachers and five million students that New Teacher Center affects could say it together:  “Thank you, Ms. Hayward!”

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