Dear Colleagues:

When I was a student at Springfield High School, my English class was taught by a young teacher named Mark Mittelstaedt. As he introduced us to iconic works of literature – The Great Gatsby, A Catcher in the Rye, anything by Mark Twain – Mr. Mittelstaedt could barely contain his excitement. His attitude about reading was so contagious, he planted in all of us a curiosity about books. For me, that curiosity bloomed into a love of literature. Mr. Mittelstaedt was always open to conversations about any book. He got to know me as a person

and would make recommendations about literature based on that knowledge of me, encouraging me to read works beyond those he assigned for the class, and – without my realizing it – books that were also beyond my tested reading level. Mark not only helped strengthen my reading abilities; he also exposed me to entirely new worlds.

Mark Mittelstaedt is just one of the many great teachers who shaped me. I know each of you have teachers who shaped you, too. During this Teacher Appreciation Week, you may be getting more donuts in the staff lounge and gift cards tucked into Thank-A-Teacher coffee mugs, but the higher payoff for your efforts will come years or decades in the future when someone thinks about all the ways you strengthened their skills, shored up their self-confidence, recognized their inherent value, and broadened their horizons.

If you follow us on Twitter or Facebook, you’ll see that we are sharing a template with easy prompts for you to honor your favorite teacher. If you tag us on social media, we will share it and let more people know about the educator who helped shape you.

We’ve already heard from some of our staff members, like Hector Rodriguez, our director of government relations. His favorite was his fourth and fifth grade ESL teacher, Mrs. Straub, at Orchard Place Elementary in Des Plaines. He remembers Mrs. Straub as funny, kind and generous. Jen Saba, our executive director of regional services, has fond memories of her third-grade teacher Mrs. Appleton for teaching through play, with songs and art, and “making it obvious she loved us.” Jen says she had been an “anxious second-grader" but turned into a “joy-filled third grader” because of Mrs. Appleton. And Jen Kirmes (yes, another Jen), our executive director of teaching and learning, says her high school field biology teacher was her favorite, because he took his classroom outside, "gave us lots of ways to show how much we were learning,” and was the first teacher to tell Jen that she was smart!

I continue to be inspired by educators every day. I’m soaking up everything I can during my listening tour, and I am learning more about what ISBE may be able to do to help you succeed in your work. Happy Teacher Appreciation Week to all Illinois educators.

All my best,