Dear Mr. Anderson, assistant principal, Hialeah Jr. High, 1971-72:
Did I ever thank you for changing my life?
You caught me skipping school in seventh grade, and moved by my regretful tears, you allowed me to pick my punishment: Call my parents or wash dishes for the rest of the day in the cafeteria.
No Cuban girl would have survived that phone call, so I washed dishes until my fingertips turned into mushy flesh.
And then we talked.
You heard my story: Daughter of a teacher in Cuba, never a grade below a 96 out of 100, taking algebra when I left the island, learned English in three months.
“Then what are you doing in these classes?” you said, reviewing my schedule.
You listened, discovered the hurt behind the truancy, and elevated me from the lowest-level classes where I had been misplaced because of my name and date of arrival, to the challenging honors classes where I thrived and remained for the rest of my school days.
Did I ever properly thank you?
Few of us ever do.
But teachers and administrators, take a bow, please.
If, for the sixth straight year, Florida has seen its school drop-out rate decline and more students than ever are getting their high school diplomas, no doubt that it’s you we need to thank.
This time of year, the accolades, awards and commencement speeches are lavished upon the graduates. We celebrate their accomplishments and toast to their future, as we should, but how often do we remember to thank the teachers behind the successes and the miracles?
This has been a long, difficult year — another one — and it often felt as if teachers were being treated by the state’s leadership like a class of truant workers who needed to be castigated instead of what you are: the proverbial unsung heroes. You endure low salaries, crowded classrooms, too-few supplies, and students too often short on skill and attention span, not to mention that old-fashioned value: Respect.
You not only impart the lessons of a mandated educational script and dutifully prep students for that useless test that doesn’t teach critical or creative thinking, you also end up being the silent hand that soothes the wounds of modern life.
Absent parents, busy parents, unemployed parents, drug-addicted parents, imprisoned parents, clueless parents, undocumented parents. Their children land in your classroom, and their deficiencies become your challenges.
It’s always all on you.
The school year was a wrap on Friday, teachers, and the time for reward has come. Summer is here. Rest and recharge (that summer job not withstanding; that additional certification just in case that dreaded word, “layoffs,” resurfaces not withstanding). Some predict this may be a stressful summer with bad news coming to you, but do your best to forget about that ill-conceived “merit” evaluation that will never measure how much and how well you teach, how many lives you’ve changed.
You’ve taught the final lesson of the year: How to say goodbye.
All that’s left to say to the Mr. Andersons of today is: Thank you.