The Power of One Note

by The Teacher
New Jersey, USA

Another year as a junior high teacher in New Jersey was coming to an end. The morning ceremony for the eighth grade graduates was about to begin. There’s always a feeling of accomplishment at this time. You also hope that the students will look back and realize how much they learned and that they’ll be successful in high school.

Power of One NoteHaving taught for 15 years, I had come to realize that teaching was a profession where you receive very few “thank you’s” and where the impact you have will never be known. This empty feeling is especially acute on graduation day.

I headed towards the gymnasium ceremony and decided to stop by the room where I teach American history to pick up a few items I wanted to bring home.

When I glanced at the podium in the room, I saw a sheet of paper and began reading. It was a note from an eighth grader addressed to me about 500 words long. I could not believe what I was reading.

This quiet young lady had written to express her gratitude for the positive affect I had on her life, both emotionally and academically. She wrote about the tough time she initially had in class and how I was able to make learning enjoyable, make her laugh, and give her confidence that she would do well in high school.

As I read the letter, tears streamed down my cheeks. When I had finished, I quickly went to the gymnasium. Quite honestly, I do not remember anything regarding the ceremony; my thoughts kept going back to the letter. I do remember thinking that I’d better not make eye contact with her during the ceremony, because I would not be able to hold back my tears, and my colleagues would wonder what was happening to such a stoic member of the faculty.

This student changed my life forever by her act of appreciation and kindness. I still don’t receive many notes of thanks from parents and students, but I don’t need to. In June of 2002, I received a note of gratitude from a young lady telling me that I had made a difference.

Since this former student works at a local eatery when she is home from college, I see her from time to time. I always make a point of saying hello and inquire about her college experience. I hope she realizes the impact she has had on me.

Whenever I have misgivings about teaching, or question whether I make a difference, I read her note, and the tears appear once again — tears of gratitude for having the opportunity to meet this one angelic student.

Originally published as HeroicStories #800 on May 29, 2010

7 thoughts on “The Power of One Note”

    • My thoughts precisely! Please do not just “hope that she realizes the impact she had”, follow her example and let her know clearly – preferably in writing so that she can take it out and reread it when she has misgivings or questions.

  1. I agree. The student’s acknowledgment of the teacher’s impact had a profound affect on the teacher. Why hasn’t the teacher reciprocated and told the student of the positive impact she had on somebody?

  2. I was also a teacher (now retired), and, like her, positive feedback was uncommon, because kids are kids. But I became Facebook friends with some of my former students who are old enough to have FB accounts. One day of them, reacting bitterly to the world situation, posted one day that you can’t believe anything you learn in school. I replied (with a smiley face) that I hope she didn’t mean EVERYTHING she learned.

    Her reply brought tears to my eyes. I hope you (and she) won’t mind me repeating it: “i would actually like to apologize for being the bad kid in class so many years ago….u was a great teacher surprisingly many of the things i learned in ur class im teaching my kids today….u inspired my love for writing when u told me to write my feelings down & start my first journal in 6th grade….for everything u’ve done….i wanna thank u for being such an awesome teacher”

    Like “The Teacher” of your post, I always hoped I had an influence on my students, but with very little feedback, teaching remained an act of faith. This FB post made me realize that there must be many more of my students who felt similarly. It has redeemed my faith in myself and in the time and effort I poured into the job. I did reply on FB to my student to tell her what it meant to me, but she will never know just how much. I printed her post out and have it posted in my work area. It is one of my proudest possessions.

  3. It’s the little things we do, or don’t do, when we get the urging in life, that seem to make the greatest difference! For me it’s sort of a still small voice of thought and reason, suggesting I do something purely out of the ordinary, very unordiary you might say. When I’ve listened and responded, it has been extraordinary, for both the recipient and myself. The old adage, it’s more precious to give, than receive, is generally true. But, every once in a while a special gift is like a taste of heaven for the soul, that lasts a lifetime!

  4. Equally important to the Heroic Stories I read here, are the thoughts & feelings everyone shares, especially the encouraging words for the teacher to reach out and share her feelings of gratitude and connection to her former student.

    The teacher who charaacterized herself as “stoic” would most likely make yet another beneficial impression on her former student by allowing herself to model strength in vulnerability if she chose to divulge how moving and cherished the message in the letter is to her. I’m sure her former student realized how hard it is for the teacher to open to receive–and that is why she didn’t give it to her in person.


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