Yesterday, as I was watching the second presidential debate, and following various bloggers who were live-blogging the event, I took a moment to check my email. I found that I had received a note from a former student. This individual had been in my summer cohort last year and also in my Learning Technology by Design class in the spring of 2008. The subject line said “Thank You!” and the note went on to expand on that thought, speaking in detail about her experience with the summer program, and the 817 course. This person wrote about how much they had gained from these experiences and how this had changed their personal approach towards teaching and, maybe more importantly, teaching with technology.

I am not including this email here for a couple of reasons. The first is modesty (not something that people have ever accused me of having, but even I have my limits). Second, this was a private note and I am not sure it was meant for public display. I realized that I needed to write something back in response, primarily because such affirmations of what we do as educators are so rare and I wanted to appreciate this person taking the time to write this note.

I am including below the note that I sent back. I have edited it slightly to remove any information that could be used to identify this individual.

Here is an excerpt of what I wrote:

Dear ???

What an absolute pleasure receiving and reading this note from you.

As teachers, as I am sure you well understand, we work at our craft never really knowing whether or not what we do gets through. We care, we try, and yet, the immediate pleasure given to a salesman on making a sale, a computer programmer on having their program run, a mechanic having the appliance work properly, is denied to us. We work under the assumption that what we do will pay off 5 maybe 10 years from now. It is an investment in hope, in the possibility of learning, in the potential of a leap into the unknown that maybe (always maybe) will take flight.

However, every once in a while, something comes along that tells us that what we have been saying and doing is right, that it made a difference. It is moments like these that make it all worthwhile.

This is not to say that we all seek these sensitively written, glowing words, or even deserve it. Not at all. I doubt I deserve all that you have written about me. It is you who took my stumbling attempts and read in them much more than I possibly intended (or even realized). And I am grateful that you chose to let me know.

As a teacher, a parent, and as a citizen we all have dark moments of the soul, times where things seem overwhelming and difficult. It is at times like these that a letter like the one you wrote, both surprising and touching in its unsolicited largeness of heart, mean so much. I will treasure this for a long long time.