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“Teachers Matter: A Letter to My Teacher” by Deborah Hopkinson

March 01, 2017

We don’t write letters much anymore. At least, I don’t.

These days, most of the letters I get are from students. Just yesterday, at an author visit at Lowrie Primary in Wilsonville, Oregon, I was presented with a heavy, beautifully wrapped box. Inside I discovered more than five hundred letters—one from each student in the school. The stack sits on my desk as I write, tied with a blue ribbon, a testament to both the writers’ hard work and the thoughtfulness of the teachers and librarians who organized the effort.

The letters are from children whose families hail from all over the world. Last night, at a family literacy event, I chatted with a father and his two children from Egypt, a mother and daughter from India, a family who’d moved to Oregon from Pittsburgh, and Latino families who had taken advantage of the school’s special interpreter headphones. During the day I met more than five hundred children, all part of that unique learning community we call a school.

I was struck by this sign prominently displayed in the front office (it also appears on the school’s website):

As an author, I am privileged to be able to visit schools all over the country. Invariably I come away feeling a sense of awe as I meet caring, dedicated professionals working incredibly hard, day after day, to create welcoming, nurturing learning communities for all children.

So, although it is fictional, A Letter to My Teacher is my own thank-you letter to all the educators I’ve met, and so many others. Lately I’ve found myself wishing that, like the girl in the story, I’d taken the time to thank many of the teachers who changed my life and encouraged me to read—and especially to write. I hope reading this book will encourage others to write their own letters of gratitude.

Speaking of being grateful, I am thankful, as always, to Anne Schwartz, for helping me to craft the best story I could. I’ve worked with Anne and Lee Wade for a long time, and the beautiful books in the Schwartz & Wade imprint never fail to astonish and surprise.

But I think what makes A Letter to My Teacher truly shine is Nancy Carpenter’s sensitive, evocative artwork. Somehow, Nancy has captured the heart of what I really wanted to convey: teachers make a profound difference in individual lives—perhaps more than they will ever know.

I wrote an early draft of this book in an April snowstorm a few years ago. I was in New Hampshire, visiting my daughter, Rebekah, who, at the time, was in graduate school and about to embark on a teaching career. I’ve dedicated the book to Rebekah, who is now an incredibly gifted teacher who inspires her students every day.

A final note—while I don’t write personal letters, I DO still work with students at author visits to incorporate letter-writing activities into my presentations. So, teachers, get ready: you might find yourselves with a treasure trove of grateful student letters thanks to A Letter to My Teacher. And you will deserve each and every one. Thank you!