Thank You, Mr. Sanders by Tonya Foster
Patricia Polacco’s Thank You, Mr. Falker is a tribute to the teacher that helped her learn to read as an intermediate school student. Whenever I read this book, I am always reminded of my favorite teacher, Mr. Wayne Sanders. I was a student, like many of the students I work with today, who made frequent moves. I went to four elementary schools, and some of those schools I attended more than one time. I was a young student, always anxious about the changes that occurred with each move (new house, new teacher, and new friends). I remember leaving one school, where we hadn’t learned a concept, and arriving at the new school to discover the concept had already been taught. I remember being handed things, particularly in math, and told, “You just need to memorize it.”
The summer before my 6th grade year, my family bought a house, and I was placed in Mr. Sander’s class for my final year of elementary school. He was the perfect example of the saying, ‘My teacher thought I was smarter than I was-so I was.’ He was patient, encouraging, and one of the kindest people I have ever known. I remember Mr. Sanders reading aloud to us every day after lunch – Where the Red Fern Grows and a book about two people surviving after nuclear war (I can’t remember the title). I vividly remember our weekly vocabulary lists: when we found one in our reading, we took it to him, had to tell him what it meant, and record it in our vocabulary journal. Once we found 15 words, he brought us a treat. Mr. Sanders encouraged me to read something besides mysteries. He would say, “There are other kinds of books besides mysteries; you should give them a try.”
Mr. Sander’s miraculous abilities really came in the area of math. For the first time, I understood the math concepts he was teaching! It was in his class that I remember thinking, ‘Maybe I’m smarter than I thought. Maybe I can do this.’ To this day, when someone asks me about my favorite teacher, Mr. Sanders is always the first one I mention.
When I graduated from high school, I did not have the resources to immediately attend college. After five years of working, I went back to school to become a teacher. While in college, I often thought I needed to write Mr. Sanders and tell him what he meant to me and how he had changed my life, but I was busy taking a full course load and working full time so I never wrote the letter. Then I got my first job and my time was consumed with surviving my first few years. One night, several years after I began teaching, I wrote a Facebook post telling my friends this story. I wanted to know if any of them knew anything about Mr. Sanders. A teaching colleague responded that she knew Mr. Sanders well, but he had died a year or two before. I would never get to tell him what he had meant to me-and that I finally read more genres than just mysteries.
My career in the classroom was spent as a first grade teacher. I spent several years as a Remedial Reading teacher, many years as a literacy coach, and I’m currently starting my third year as a library media specialist. The 2015-1016 school year was the senior year for my final class of first graders. One day, as I was scrolling through Facebook, I found a post from my school district describing the volunteer works of a senior that was the first to complete the requirements of the Teaching and Training Pathway at her high school. She collected nearly 200 books for students that do not have access to many books. I am the proud, former first grade teacher of this student.
This summer I received a message from her. In the message, she told me that I was the teacher that she named when asked about her favorite teacher. She told me that I made her feel special, and that I pushed her to do her best in school and to be a better person in her community. She said that one day she hopes to be the kind of teacher for her students that I was for her. Her message took me by surprise, and now when I reread it, I have to wipe away tears. I immediately thought of Mr. Sanders and the letter he never received from me. How I wish I would have told him before he died. My hope is that perhaps he knows.
Tonya Foster is a library media specialist deeply in love with her job. The 2016-2017 school year will be her 19th year teaching. She has a Reading Specialist, Library Media Specialist, and English for Speakers of Other Languages endorsement. Her idea of fun is spending time with friends, taking photos, and reading/listening to/watching stories.