It all began with her

Bob Greene, excerpts from I Actually Thanked A TeacherNow 88, she gave me a refresher in the lesson I’d learned in first grade: how to read the word ‘look.’ (, April 12, 2017):

…My first-grade teacher was named Patricia Ruoff…I still recall the day she helped me learn the first word I could ever read…and she showed me what the shape of the four letters on the first page meant, and what they sounded like. That one word: “Look.”

I went home so thrilled that day. I knew how to read a word. “Look.” When the day had begun I hadn’t known it, and now I did. Such a magical feeling, accompanied by the sure knowledge that other words would soon follow. […]

it became important to me to find that teacher. It took some doing—it turns out she has been twice widowed, and thus has had two different last names since back then—but I reached a woman on the telephone who I thought might be her.

“I’m sorry if I have the wrong number,” I said. “But I’m looking for a Patricia Ruoff, who once was a schoolteacher.”

“Yes,” the voice said. “You have the right person.”

“You taught me to read,” I said.

I told her my name.

“Oh, Bobby,” she said. […]

I tried to explain to her why I was calling. I said that if I’ve ever written a graceful sentence, if I’ve ever appreciated a turn of phrase in a good book, if I’ve ever found comfort in a beautifully told story, it all began with her. I told her that hundreds of other boys and girls who once passed through her classroom likely have reason to be just as grateful.

And I told her I was sure that many other men and women, now grown, must have called to thank her over the years.

There was a slight pause, and then she said: “None.”

She said: “No one ever has.”

We talked about that. I said that it was probably because, by the time we’re men and women, first grade seems so distant that such a magnificent moment—the moment when we learned to read our first word—gets taken for granted. We know thousands upon thousands of words by the time we’re adults. The circumstance of learning that first one must kind of get lost in the haze.

I told her I’d come see her the next time I’m in Franklin County. And after we’d hung up, it occurred to me: In this world filled with dreadful news events, there’s not much we can do to affect any of that. But all of us can surely think of people who, in seemingly small ways, have made our lives better and more fulfilled, people who may believe we’ve forgotten them. It’s not too late to find them, and to tell them.

All you have to do is . . .




  1. Great story and surely a big experience, dear David 🙂

    Thanks for sharing.

    All the best

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mrs. Fishbein – my angel in first grade. And a list of some of the greatest teachers ever in high school. And we’re still in occasional touch. I am grateful for them all (& why I double majored in education and psychology-all because of them)

    Liked by 2 people

  3. How wonderful. I looked up my grade three teacher and thanked her for making such a difference in my life. We need to thank these people while they are still around.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. as you can imagine, i love this. i recently received such a note from a former student who told me she had 42 days of college left and was reflecting on what and who had led her to where she is now. i couldn’t stop crying.

    Liked by 5 people

  5. love

    Liked by 1 person

  6. A wonderful story!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I, too, was blessed by some amazing teachers, and the ones that pushed me the hardest are the ones I remember most clearly and fondly. I’m still in touch with a number of my teachers…perhaps one of the by-products of growing up in a small town. I’ve written to several over the years and told them what their wise counsel and nurturing have meant to me and my life’s path, but I think a phone call to one of my favorites is in order. Gonna make it happen today…. Thanks for another inspiring post, pal.


  8. Wonderful. It all started with Dick and Jane, and the right teacher.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. What a beautiful story. I must show it to my son, who has just applied for teacher’s training.
    Only the other day, my mother was talking to me about when she went back to her first school in her twenties to teach the backward 6-year-olds to help them catch up, and how most of them grew up do amazing things. She is so proud of having contributed to their later successes.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. love love love this! nothing has affected my life more than reading! thank you David!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I think it’s likely that a lot of teachers read your posts and I bet they’re all a bit choked up as I was when I read this. I taught grade one for many years, and I like to hope that I gave those kids a happy start to their school years. Being remembered fondly or gratefully by a former student is more thanks than any paycheck could ever be.


  12. Reblogged this on A Grateful Man and commented:
    Thank you for the reminder, David. There is still time, but it is slipping way.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Thank you for sharing this David. It echoed the research I completed for my dissertation.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. David, this resonates with me for two reasons. The first is because I too was a teacher and it is my hope that somewhere, somehow, during my tenure as a teacher I made a connection with at least one of my students. It’s what makes teaching one of the most wonderful occupations one can be a part of.

    The second reason is that I had a similar desire to acknowledge a teacher that had made the subject of science, interesting and fun. Like you, I tracked him down and shared my appreciation for all he did. He was surprised as well, as none had contacted him either. It made me feel great to tell him how much his being my science teacher meant to me.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. roseanne333 says:

    I remember my first grade teacher very well. Mrs. Malione. I loved her sweet, gentle nature. I don’t remember the exact moment when I realized I was reading, but it was likely with that same first word…look.
    The most striking moment for me, of realizing I was a reader, a Reader!, happened probably in 2nd or 3rd grade. There was a posted road sign very near to our home that looked to me to be in some foreign language. Every day we passed it and I could not figure it out…there were too many consonants for my skill set at that point. And one day, it happened. I read the sign, just like that. SIGNAL AHEAD. To this day, I can feel the emotion of that moment.
    Thanks, Dave, for this reminder of the every day miracle of it all.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I’m realizing after reading this that my mother was the one who taught me to read. She comes from a generation and part of the world where a person that can read is an educated person. She grew up very poor and comes from a very large family, 18 siblings. She became a teacher herself, math teacher. I remember her sitting on one of our dining room chairs every evening waiting for dad to come home, while I sat on the table, my legs dangling by her side, watching her index finger trace the letters and words for me.

    I was blessed with great teachers and mentors all my life. But today I owe mom a big thank you. Then we had to learn other languages as we moved around. With her around giving was was not an option.
    She never reads for fun. To her reading is a tool to learn the news, religion and recipes.

    Thanks for posting.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. What a wonderful thing to share, David. We do so take for granted those who taught us – especially in the early days. I had gone to a French school for Kindergarten and Grade 1 (a blur, quite frankly) and my neighbour, Stephanie, taught me how to read in English, to prepare me for Mrs. Anderson’s class. Followed by Miss Drozdiak. We learned how to write in script (or cursive, if you prefer) with her and I always say it is thanks to her that I get complimented on my handwriting. Feels rather unimportant compared to reading and ‘rithmetic, and yet, it is what I remember!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. It is Never too late to show appreciation for those who have enriched our lives. I’ve called teachers and written them as well over the years. I never asked them if anyone else kept in touch, but I couldn’t let time go by without telling them how impactful they were in my younger days. One art teacher lived on an island in the middle of the Connecticut River, where she could glimpse sunrise from one side of her house and sunset from the other. It was her dream house, and she was going blind. She would have to move back to the mainland, but was optimistic and pragmatic – she was learning the piano, so when she couldn’t paint anymore, she could still express her artistic soul through music. It was so touching. One writing prof, a tough old Vermonter, was still getting up and down the steep and narrow stairs of her 2-story farmhouse. She had had a stroke, which I discovered speaking with her. It affected her speech. Not a year or two later, she died. I think I really would have regretted it if we hadn’t spoken again that last time.
    Great post! Aloha ❤


  19. I love this, and I try to do it on a regular basis. There are so many people unknowingly responsible for saving my life.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. So thoughtful and kind!

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Thanks for sharing. If you’d like me to send you a full copy of the article, please send me your email address to



  1. […] usual, the Wall Street Journal has limited access but I was fortunate enough to find most of article over at another blog entitled Live & Learn by David Kanigan and so I thought I would share it […]

    Liked by 1 person

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