The Real Impact of an Amazing Teacher


Last week we hosted an event to honor longtime art teacher, Ms. Washburn.  The goal of the event was to recognize Ms. Washburn for the recent Those Who Excel award she received from the Illinois State Board of Education.  This was a truly magical event and underscored the power of the Pleasantdale community.

Education, like most industries, strives to have an outcomes based focus.  This focus is frequently measured in test scores or other student outcomes.  While this is one yardstick that we can use to measure the effectiveness of school, we also need to look at less tangible measurements.  Below is an email that I was copied on last week, and I believe underscores the true power of a public education.

(This letter was shared with the consent of the author and Ms. Washburn)

Hi Ms. Washburn-

I am so sorry that I missed your celebration tonight.  My dance practice ran late and my assistant was out sick today so I couldn’t leave early to make it there in time like I planned.  I just wanted to send you an email to let you know how much my time with you at Pleasantdale has really impacted my life.

After my father passed away when I was a third grader at Pleasantdale, my mom all of a sudden started panicking; because as a single parent, she knew she couldn’t leave me alone at home when she had to leave for work, and didn’t know what to do with me in the mornings.  By always having your art room opened in the mornings, it was truly a Godsend to both myself and my mom.  She didn’t have to worry about day care, or leaving me alone as a young kid, and I remember coming to a place where I could organize your brushes, or make shrinky dinks, or make those yarn popsicle stick things, and to just overall have a place to hang out.  I always felt welcomed there, and I absolutely loved the environment!  I remember when the “art ladies” would come in, going to the Art Institute, and anticipating every single project that you would do with each grade…chalk pastels in 8th grade and the ceramic mask project…ahh!!  I remember in 6th grade I totally didn’t follow the objective of the assignment (not a first for me in your class..cough, cocktail lady) and I drew a turtle with permanent marker on watercolor instead.  It was the first thing I was really proud of and you immediately recognized my talent.  You were so kind, and sweet, and encouraging, and always gave the most wonderful critiques and support.  I remember laying out all my lino prints of Van Gogh’s chair and standing on the table trying to figure out the best order.  I remember making the life size Egyptian people, and I even remember doing those name tags where we had to illustrate our last name…you did hands washing for “wash” and fire for “burn” and I did a backache for “sore”, a golf “tee”, and the “no” symbol.

I cannot thank you enough for believing in me and for providing an environment where not just myself, but all your students can feel safe and take risks, and most importantly, have fun!  You are, and forever will be, such an inspiration in my life (and my mom also wants to thank you for always having your art room opened in the mornings)!  Without you, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to change majors in college and become an art teacher.  Without you, a lot of students wouldn’t be where they are today or WHO they are today.  Thank you, thank you, thank you, for all that you do for your students.  YOU are what I remember about middle school, and YOU are the reason why I’m where I am today (totally loving being an art teacher).  I thank my lucky stars everyday that you were my art teacher and hope to run into you again soon!

Many hugs and thanks,

Deanna Sortino, Class of ’97

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