An Open Letter to the Teacher Who Impacted My Life
Dear Ms. Wasiolek,
I have so much to tell you since we last saw each other in third grade. I have tried looking for you on the Internet and have even contemplated hiring a detective to find you. Basically, I want to say thank you.
Due to your simple yet meaningful gesture, you impacted my life. Before I left the third grade, you gave me a letter and asked me to save it. You told me it would be useful to me years from now when I would need it. You even gave it a name – a recommendation letter.
For someone like me, a first generation American and whose parents are immigrants with no postsecondary education, I had no idea what this letter signified. I only knew two things: It was very important and I should keep it. And, so I did. I saved it somewhere until I would need it years from now not knowing what would trigger me to find it again.
As the years went by, I did think about the letter but just had passing thoughts. I do remember reading it once or twice before saving it but thought nothing about it. To me, it was a letter given to me by my third grade teacher and nothing more. How would I have known, at such a young age, this letter would be extremely important for me throughout my life? It amazes me you gave me such a letter I was eight years old. How did you trust this eight year old to actually save this letter?
I can’t tell you when it dawned on me to look for the letter again. I just remember attending many seminars on preparing for college applications. Guess what? I did remember an instructor stating I needed a recommendation letter to attach to my college applications. I was happy because I knew what this was and I already had one. I looked for my letter where I had saved it and found it.
I was applying to colleges and I needed a recommendation letter. Since my parents did not have prior experience in the college application process, I had to learn the in’s and out’s on my own. In the process of learning, I found out about recommendation letters. I was extremely excited because I already had one.
This time, Ms. Wasiolek, I was in high school and about sixteen years old when I read your letter. I almost cried when reading it because only you would have known the impact this letter would have on my life. In it, you wrote you were my third grade teacher at John F. Peeler Elementary School for the 1983-84 school year. You described how you were impressed by my perseverance and my seemingly limitless energy and curiosity. Well, Ms. Wasiolek, some things have not changed and I still have those qualities I possessed back then. You described my academic performance in the classroom and on standardized tests.
In the letter, you mention other qualities about me – how I was self-assured, positive, dependable, independent, self-disciplined, courteous, and outgoing. You also captured a part of my transition for which I will forever be thankful. When I began elementary school, I spoke limited English and learned it from my favorite programs such as Sesame Street, 3-2-1 Contact, and The Electric Company. As my parents are immigrants, they wanted me to learn Spanish first and speak it at home. They had learned English to adapt to their new country; however, they wanted their firstborn to learn Spanish so as not to forget her roots.
Consequently, when I entered elementary school, my English skills were limited and I was ready to learn more. I was a voracious reader and eager to learn more. I still am both – like I said some things never change. You detailed how the third grade was “Edna’s first year in transition from a Spanish to an English curriculum. Faltering at times for words in English did not inhibit her, in fact, her willingness to learn at any risk was among her many positive traits.” Through your vivid description, you allowed me to look at myself through your eyes as I made this transition. I will forever be thankful for showing me this window into my childhood.
Mainly, in writing to you, I wanted to let you know I did use your letter, Ms. Wasiolek, not only for college but for scholarships, job interviews, and whatever else I applied for in my life. Because of you, I was able to attend the college of my choice, obtain scholarships to pay for a private school college education, and gain interview opportunities I would have otherwise not without your letter.
To this day, people are amazed and stunned you took time out of your schedule to write about me. You captured qualities about me at such a young age.
I share my story with you and others, because I want them to know the importance of having someone believe in you and take action. You were instrumental in my formative years, especially as I delved into an unknown language and culture.
The part in the letter that touches me the most is the ending: “Well rounded academically, emotionally, socially and physically, I can only surmise that her experiences and knowledge to date can only form the basis for a very promising future.” I hope I make you proud Ms. Wasiolek.
Your third grade student,
Edna Z. Ruano