By Amy L-M Toson, Ph. D. — I have been inspired by the Dear Teachers project for many years. Hearing first of the project during my doctoral work while studying about care in education, I have waited for the moment to share my own “dear teacher” letter. Today is the day I thank Mrs. Mass, from Catholic Memorial High School, for believing in me when it seemed as if no one else did.
The Dear Teacher website states,
The purpose of the Dear Teacher Project is to encourage adults to consider the deep and pervasive impact of teachers on our lives. Bringing into awareness teachers who were kind, thoughtful, and competent reminds us of one of the foundations of our moral lives. These teachers helped shape our concept of ourselves as responsible and worthy individuals.
Mrs. Mass met me upon entrance to Catholic Memorial after many less than successful middle school years. She saw a gift in me and helped me channel my natural teaching and verbal abilities. By allowing me to tutor students during her math lessons my behaviors that caused countless interruptions in all other classes stopped entirely, my grades increased, and my social standing shifted from class clown to class leader. She believed in me, and therefore I believed in me. She shaped my self-concept and allowed me to soar. From there, my parents, who had grown frustrated and full of doubt, also believed in me again.
Mrs. Mass differentiated my learning process and product by applying the core elements of multiple modes of expression and engagement well before universal design for learning (UDL) hit the spot light in education. She saw a way to ignite excitement about the content by tapping into my natural abilities, never once using discipline or behavior modification to mold me into a traditional learner. She instead celebrated by interpersonal abilities and used my skills to engage and motivate me to learn in my own way.
I will never forget Mrs. Mass. My life changed that semester and I have never quenched my thirst for knowledge. Thank you, Mrs. Mass, for opening my eyes to my own potential. Thank you, Mrs. Mass, for believing in me. Thank you, Mrs. Mass, for being an outstanding, caring and competent teacher for all children, even those who constantly challenge teachers. You are exceptional.
Amy Tosen has been working with schools, both nationally and internationally, for well over ten years in the area of inclusive education capacity building and systems change, and holds her Ph.D. in special education leadership and policy from the University of South Florida. Currently, Amy is an Assistant Professor and the Department Chair of Special Education within the College of Education and Leadership at Cardinal Stritch University. She teaches courses related to inclusive education, instructional strategies and educational foundations. Amy actively consults and researches in the area of school systems and leader/teacher capacity building. Her most recent publication- Educational Justice for All: The Capability Approach and Inclusive Education Leadership- is published with the International Journal of Inclusive Education.