David 'Mas' Masumoto

Letters leave a legacy to teachers who had an impact


The school year has ended, teachers are recovering and so are students. I remember I couldn’t wait for vacation to unfold. Yet years later, I regret I didn’t reach out to some teachers during summer break to let them know how much I appreciated them.

Most have passed away. I have no idea where others may have moved. I lost track of many. So now I write a letter to a teacher and their memory.

Why letters? Because they last. They can be read over and over. They can be passed around and shared. Most importantly, perhaps a relative, a son or daughter, or even a grandchild will read these letters years later and gain a glimpse into the life and work of a family member.

When collected, the letters can become the book of a teacher’s life, a tribute to their work as an educator. In doing so, a collection of letters honors both the individual and the legacy of having a teacher in the family.

Write a letter to teachers who made a difference. You may not have been the best student, but a teacher may have changed your life. In some cases, you made an academic breakthrough, other times you learned a life lesson, and occasionally you simply needed someone who listened.

A teacher may not have been the most charismatic or organized. They may have disciplined and pushed you at a time when you did not appreciate it. You may have been treated with respect and honesty a typical student only vaguely senses.

It may have been a relationship you benefited from over the years or a single exchange that, only as an adult, you now understood the significance.

Great teachers keep teaching. I know of some who have reconnected with former students and renewed their relationships. In one case, a group of past students reached out via a letter, requested a new “class” be taught by their former instructor and sought to learn more, but this time they were all adults.

Sadly, my letters could be too late. My teachers may be gone, but I hope a family member can read them and gain insight into character: to see a teacher through the eyes of a former student and understand the remarkable contributions made.

But for many, it’s not too late. You can write that letter now. You don’t have to wait until a teacher retires, celebration works anytime in one’s career. (And if you don’t know an address, perhaps your former school can help and might be able to forward your envelope).

Here are some of my letters. Writing them makes me aware of how the best teachers go above and beyond.

Dear Mrs. Miles (kindergarten teacher),

You understood I had a speech problem. (I once believed the letters R and W sounded the same and could be used interchangeably.) You knew in my home, Japanese was spoken and in the simple, twisted thinking of a child, I invented my own alphabet.

You kept me after school and drilled me with exercises and speech lessons. Thanks for taking time. It took only a few weeks to straighten me out. But most remarkably, I now realize you also kept Jackie, another student, after school, too, so I wouldn’t feel singled out and different. Together we all practiced and learned much.

Dear Mrs. Hiebert (elementary school music teacher),

You were a trained classical violinist, played with the Philharmonic and still came out to Del Rey to teach us farm and farmworker kids music. We had an orchestra of violins, woodwinds and my French horn.

How did you tolerate the squeaky sounds, the lack of a beat, the horrid tones and notes we invented? Forget the sharps and flats, we had trouble just starting together with the wave of your baton. Yet you were patient, rarely yelled and made us believe we really could perform. Only a true teacher could listen to us and hear music.

Dear Mr. Bosserman (high school electronics teacher),

I never thought of myself as a vocational ed student. When I walked to your electronics classroom, past the auto shop and wood shop, next to the art classes, little did I realize I’d spend four years in what they now call career and technical education. Practical, valuable and real. Wouldn’t trade it for any AP or honors class. You gave me the confidence to fix things.

Dear Mr. Barrett (high school social studies teacher),

I was a restless senior in high school, and you fed my quest to be different. You gave me books to read and opened a new world beyond our Valley. You encouraged me to explore and see the world as an adult by treating me as an adult.

To teachers everywhere, students remember your work, even if tucked away in letters to be written.

David “Mas” Masumoto is an organic farmer near Fresno and award-winning author of books, including “Epitaph for a Peach.”