Miss Matulis, Thank You

After watching Won’t Back Down at EDPOSA’s movie night kick-off, I reflected on the media’s portrayal of teachers. Perhaps it is selective perception, but it seems like we are constantly reminded that the teaching force is incompetent, unmotivated, and cares more about the paycheck than the student. While there is certainly some merit to this description–think New York City’s “rubber rooms”–the vast majority of teachers truly do care about their students and work tireously to make sure they are on track to have happy, successful lives. Like most students, I had both types of teachers.

During fourth grade, I was placed in a classroom with a nightmare teacher; one who fits all of the negative stereotypes found in Won’t Back Down. She simply didn’t care. My two most distinctive memories from Mrs. ______’s class were learning how to shuffle cards (in order to play blackjack) and reading our science textbook as a class, in unison. Not only was she poor pedagogically, she was darn right mean. Most mornings my mother would have to drag me out of bed to spend the day with a woman who terrified me. Fortunately my parents are well educated and supplemented the (lack of) instruction I received at school. But for most families this simply isn’t an option, as we saw in the movie.

The next year, fifth grade, I had truly inspirational teacher. Miss Matulis re-engaged my love of learning and set me on a path that I would might have otherwise missed. As a first year teacher, she had that youthful energy we all know and appreciate. We wrote a book about the Civil War, conducted experiments on worms, and did a project in which we each created our own nation. (Mine was Dogville and our chief export was Brittany Spaniels.) As you can imagine, I loved fifth grade and was sad to move on to high school. But Miss Matulis did her job, and did it very well.

Over Thanksgiving break, my mother found my old report cards from fourth and fifth grades. To look at comments written by each teacher is truly amazing. For virtually every subject, Mrs. ____ wrote demeaning, negative comments, even though I was one of the strongest students in class! In contrast, Miss Matulis wrote kind and encouraging comments, telling me that she believed in me and that I would do great things with my life.

Because teachers rarely know how their effort impacts students’ lives, I sent Miss Matulis an email thanking her for being such an excellent teacher. In the email, I also described my life since fifth grade and my future career in education policy. Here is her response:

“Again, thank you for writing.  A teacher always hopes his/her efforts make a difference, but you don’t ever know to what extent until someone like you lets us know!  You have made my day.  As soon as I got this, I ran up to show Jeff!  I will be printing out this letter and saving it.  It was truly a gift!  I hope I am still the same type of teacher you remember!  I certainly try.

Well, it is great to hear from you, and I feel so honored that you took the time to share those words with me!  It means so much!  I hope to hear from you again, and I am excited to know that one of my students will be supporting education in the future!  Wow..that is really weird to comprehend!  Weird…but cool!”

We all had exceptional and inspirational teachers who changed our lives. These teachers need to know how important they are for their students’ futures. So what I would ask you to do, then, is send a brief email to your Miss Matulis. It will make his or her day!

Again, thank you Miss Matulis.

(I also found out what happened to Mrs. ____. Our school had a yearly book sale, which Mrs. ____ managed. When the district office reviewed the program’s financial records, they noticed some discrepancies between the projected profit and the amount actually deposited. It turns out Mrs. _____ had been skimming off a portion of the proceeds for more than a decade! Though this sounds like a movie script, it actually did happen)

(Sorry, one more thing. After you email your Miss Matulis, please post the response in the comment section. It will be cool to see the reactions.)

Mike Poletika

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