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May 5, 2020

In recognition of teachers everywhere

By Sarah Yezzi

In the midst of World War II, a time of crisis for the world and upheaval for U.S. schools, teacher Mattye Whyte Woodridge wrote to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to advocate for a national day of recognition for the dedicated work of teachers. I suspect Ms. Woodridge would see in today’s teachers what she saw in the 1940s: a stabilizing force that provides consistency, support, and opportunity for our young people nationwide. A few weeks ago, none of us could have predicted what schools and teaching would look like for Teacher Appreciation Week 2020. Right now, school buildings are closed. Remote instruction is taking many forms. Students, teachers, and families are trying to balance learning, household needs, financial concerns, illness, loss, and uncertainty. School is different right now, but we see that the fundamental elements of teaching haven’t changed: teachers are using their creativity, compassion, and resolve to reach out and support their students.

At the Kennedy Institute, we would like to recognize the critical work of you all, our network of wonderful educators. We miss being able to welcome you to the Institute. We know that you have taken up the challenge as educators to find new ways to provide instruction and support for students during this current public health crisis. You have quickly embraced online tools and found engaging ways to use them. You have called and emailed your students to check in on them. You have raised money and delivered food to families. You have supported each other and tried to maintain learning communities for your students, seemingly without missing a beat. Thank you from all of us at the Kennedy Institute for the important work you do each day. To show our appreciation, staff members of the Kennedy Institute have shared some memories of their favorite teachers.


“My favorite teacher in high school still comes up in conversations with my friends because he made that big of an impact. Mr. Perry made learning fun and accessible for everyone, and earned the trust of the students to the point where we didn’t want to disappoint him in any way. He knew the names of every student, even if he didn’t have them in class.

He made up a game called XF Bell, a Jeopardy-like game where he served as Alex Trebek and asked us questions to review material before a test. It got super competitive and we broke multiple bells while playing. Many of my friends who have since gone into teaching (most of them because of Mr. Perry) have adapted XF Bell into something similar with their own students.

I was always a history nerd, interested in government and politics, and having Mr. Perry for multiple years made me realize that I should pursue a college degree in the subjects I really loved: history and political science. I wouldn’t be where I am today had he not been part of my high school years.”
–– Lauren Scribi, director of programs and government relations

“My special shout out goes to my two AP U.S. History teachers, Mr. McGuire and Mr. Stephen. I didn’t really even like U.S. history until I started their two-year class, and left totally convinced that America is about the complex, fascinating, intertwining of our multiple histories, and we’re all a part of the story. They were both patient, funny, serious, and dedicated teachers, each in his own way, and they showed me that my adopted country’s history was mine, too.”
–– Caroline Angel-Burke, vice president of education, visitor experience and collections

“The history class that finally made me realize I was living in the same universe in which ‘history’ happened came my senior year. I already had plenty of classes on American history and current events, but it was Mr. Gould’s Ancient Greece and Rome course that made it all real. Mr. Gould ran one of the ‘houses’ at my school, was tenured through the roof, and knew he could get away with a lot. Classes were always rooted in the actual syllabus, but Mr. Gould took us on tangent after tangent, masterfully relating the battles, debates, and mythologies of the ancients to present day struggles. Without even directly naming the connection, Mr. Gould turned the Spartan subjugation of the Helots into a covert lesson on the realities of American white supremacy that you were not likely to get in many classrooms in 1999. He also made the deaths of nameless soldiers in wars from millennia ago as real as those in Vietnam or the Persian Gulf. I once made a wiseacre joke about his job security, and Mr. Gould revealed that he was fired, early in his career, for teaching about Vietnam as it was happening. I was far from his best student and I doubt I’ll ever be as fine an educator, but his example guides my professional life to this day.”
–– Nate Gundy, manager of educational programs

“When I was in school, I never thought I’d be an educator, and never in history. I hated history. It was just boring facts and dates. This all changed when I walked into Kristine Forsgard’s U.S. history class during my junior year. Mrs. Forsgard made history come alive. She made sure that we understood that these were real people who went through all the things we were learning about and more. She made her classroom a safe place where we were able to learn and then have discussions without fear of criticism or rejection. This continues today with my work at the Kennedy Institute. I use not only the content she taught, but I also try to create that safe space for learning and discussion, even if it’s only for a short time. Thank you, Mrs. Forsgard, for all you have done for me and all you continue to do for your students past and present!”
–– Abigail Courage, visitor experience coordinator

The Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, civic education organization in Boston envisioned by the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy. Through a range of exhibits, interactive educational offerings, and topical programs, the Institute engages students and visitors in a conversation about the essential role each person plays in our democracy and in our society.