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“Don’t Worry, Mr. Wylie. We Got You.”

A few weeks ago, Scott Wylie, a veteran teacher at St. Thomas Aquinas in Cleveland, had to do something unheard of for him: he went home sick. Scott is a healthy guy who takes pride in the fact that he has only missed a handful of days in his 13 years at St. Thomas.

Before he left, Mr. Wylie was anxious about leaving—the school had visitors coming the next day, and he asked his students to help ensure that the room would be in great shape. “Don’t worry, Mr. Wylie. We got you,” they assured him. He was skeptical—he knew from long experience how messy 8th graders could be, especially with a substitute teacher. Then he got an email from one of the students that afternoon. “I can’t wait for you to see the room tomorrow!” It made him a little anxious.

But when Scott arrived the next day, the room was immaculate. Organized. The guys had come through. And he found a note on his desk. It read:

Mr. Wylie,

We really appreciate you teaching us about social studies and life. You mean so much to us. As a Black African-American male teaching us, that really means a lot that you take time for us. We care about you and love you and your family.

I ran into Scott that afternoon, after school in the office. He grabbed me—“Hey, come here, I need to show you something.” He told me the story, showed me how clean the room was, and handed me the note. As I finished reading it, I looked up. Scott’s back was to me, and he was looking out the window. He said, “I got choked up as I read this, but the guys were getting squirrely, so I had to give them a ‘GENTLEMEN!’ with my back to them.” Scott has a big voice, and he and I laughed as his “Gentlemen!” boomed out while he wiped a tear from his cheek. It was a beautiful moment, and I was honored that he shared it with me.

Scott and I reflected on how special it was that these guys thought to appreciate their teacher now, today, when he wasn’t feeling well, at the end of the longest year ever for teachers. Too often, if teachers do get this kind of recognition from students, it comes in a Facebook message five or ten or fifteen years after class, or when they happen to bump into them at the grocery store. I got one on Facebook recently reminding me of a linking verbs lesson I taught in 1998, for example. I’m not knocking the random Facebook appreciation post! But the spontaneous, unprompted recognition of hard work, love, and care that Scott’s students demonstrated is something I pray every teacher is blessed to experience.

We began this year expecting it to be difficult for everyone in schools, and in the Partnership Schools we rallied around our belief that we are made for each other, and we drew strength from our belief that we can do hard things. As the year draws to a close, and as Scott’s students inspire me to reflect on my own appreciation for the teachers in our schools, I’m reminded of the last scene in one of my favorite movies.

I love the first Superman movie—the original comic book movie, from 1978. At the end, Superman saves the world, gets the girl, and delivers the bad guys to jail. Before he flies off to his next adventure, the warden tells him, “This country is safe again, Superman, thanks to you!” And Superman replies, “No, sir, don’t thank me, warden. We’re all part of the same team.”

I love this image of Superman, the warden, and all of us—on the same team.  I’m so incredibly proud to be on this team with each of our teachers. And while I don’t think anyone is ready to say “this country is safe again” just yet, there are thousands of children whose worlds are better and futures brighter because of the men and women who taught in their classrooms this year. They do not tend to claim a superhero’s mantle—yet the load these teachers have carried this year has required superhuman strength and endurance, and I’d ask all who read this will follow the lead of Mr. Wylie’s students and thank the teachers in their lives today.

Christian Dallavis is Assistant Superintendent of Partnership Schools.