I started teaching fresh out of college in 1977 at the Reeds Ferry School in Merrimack, New Hampshire. Mr. Ken Taylor was my first principal. I taught under his leadership for three years.
One of Mr. Taylor’s memorable traits was his positive attitude. As a beginning teacher, I arrived early each morning to get my 3rd grade classroom set for the day. He greeted me in the hallway with “Good morning! How are you?”
“Good,” I replied. “How are you?”
“EX… cell-ent!” was his response, with extra growling emphasis on the “EX.”
I didn’t matter if he was well or had a miserable head cold, he was always “EX… cell-ent!”
It made me smile to hear him say it. Maybe that was the point. He wanted everyone to have an “EX… cell-ent!” day.
Years later, I formally adopted his attitude. But I chose my own word… “Fabulous!”
I greeted my 1st grade students with an extended arm, ready with a firm handshake, and asked them how they were. “Good,” they replied.
“I am fabulous!” I said.
It only took a month or so before one of the 6 year olds would smile and respond, “Fabulous!”
“I’m fabulous too.” I said
I knew it was going to be an “EX… cell-ent!” day.
I thought of Mr. Taylor often during my teaching career: during my early arrivals at school, sitting in useless faculty meetings, and even at assemblies. I wanted to tell him what a wonderful principal he was.
Today, I finally wrote him the letter. I hope it finds him safe and healthy in Florida.
Here’s what it said:
I hope this letter finds you and Mary in good health. It is long overdue.
I taught 3rd grade at the Reeds Ferry School from September 1977 through June 1981. You were my principal for those first three years. When my first daughter was born, I moved and taught 1st grade in Glenmont, New York for 38 years. I have worked with six elementary school principals during my teaching career. I am writing to tell you that you were the best principal I ever had.
You cared about children. That was your focus. You knew every students’ name. You were present when they came through the school doors, ate lunch in the cafeteria, played outside at recess, and boarded the buses at the end of the day. You visited their classrooms, participated in meetings about children who required additional services, and met them in your office on occasion (with your rarely used metal folding chair in the closet that you only took out) if they needed time to think about making good decisions. At the beginning of an assembly you raised your voice and commanded “Let me see your hands!” and every child’s (and teacher’s) hand shot up as the multi-purpose room became dead silent. There was mutual respect (and maybe a bit of fear) in the air. But with your big, warm smile and a twinkle in your eyes, everyone knew your heart was full of love.
You cared about teachers. You knew about our lives and our family members’ lives. You asked us how we were in the hallway. And when we asked how you were, you always replied “Excellent.” Always. There were so many teaching styles in the building and you supported all of them. You allowed us to try new things and grow. Madeline Hunter was your mentor and you shared her wisdom. You also put your military experience to good use. You ran no-nonsense meetings. “Stay on task!” was the battle cry. You remembered what it was like to be a teacher. You had empathy for us as we worked hard in the state with the lowest teaching salaries. We were active union members, but you knew we were not the enemy. And you had a big sense of humor. You laughed hard at your own jokes and at the ones Mr. Havener had to tell you in private.
You set the bar high. You were both professional and personal. Inspiring and pragmatic. Honest and trusting. We knew where you stood on things and it was okay if we disagreed. And you always had our backs. Always.
Thank you for the best three years of my teaching. I am honored to have taught under your leadership. (Working with Mr. Havener, Mrs. Shorey, and Mr. Lane was a hoot too!)
Who made a big impact on your career? If you haven’t already told them, let them know how important they were in your professional or personal life.