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The Teacher's Note

May 30, 2021 | by Sarah Pachter

How 49 words changed a woman's life.

Mrs. Horowitz, a tenth-grade science teacher who loved connecting Torah and science, developed a relationship with each student. At the end of the year, she would stay up the whole night writing a personalized note to each girl and attached it to her report card. She wanted each girl to feel special.

“Do you think the notes make any difference in these girls’ lives?” her husband, also a teacher, asked her. "Why don't you get some sleep."

They would have this interchange every year, and sometimes Mrs. Horowitz wondered if she should continue this practice.

Years later, a letter arrived at the Horowitz home that settled the issue. It was a letter from a former student:

At the end of the year, you wrote each girl a note and stapled it to our report cards. I remember opening that envelope and reading what you had taken the time to write to me. Incredibly, every girl in the class felt the same way I did: Wow, this is so personalized and thought out; I bet no one else’s letter is as special as mine! I kept that little pink envelope with me all throughout high school and seminary, and any time I needed a boost of confidence I would open it up and read what you wrote to me. Here is what the note said:

Dear Rachel1,

I get so excited when I think of the tremendous potential you were blessed with! Please continue to use your special talents towards your learning and growing in your mitzvahs and good character traits. .

Don’t be satisfied with mediocrity; be the best you can be, and go for the gold!

The student wrote that years later she was in a terrible car accident. For eight months she went through a long and arduous recovery process that required her to lie on her back at all times. Just breathing caused her tremendous pain. Every hour crawled by and it took enormous strength to pull through.

Each morning she would read the pink note from her teacher. The message enabled her to start her day with confidence.

The student's letter concluded: Mrs. Horowitz, you changed my life. As a teacher, I myself sometimes wonder to what extent I am making a difference in my students' lives. Let me assure you, you have no idea what a profound impact you can make on a student. It is now eight years later and the ripple effects are still affecting me. I have no words strong enough to thank you.

Forty-nine words changed her life.

After receiving this letter, Mrs. Horowitz's husband started writing notes to his own students.2

After reading this story, I wrote to each of my children a heartfelt note and left it on their bed while they were sleeping.

It reminded me of a time someone was touched by a note I had written. When I lived in New York, our 60-year old neighbor would secretly shovel our driveway every time it snowed. I'd say hello to him all the time but he never once mentioned his kind acts. This went on for some time before we realized it was him.

To thank him, we wrote him a heartfelt note, baked him challah, and delivered it with a gift.

Years later, I discovered that our neighbor kept our thank you note in his wallet at all times.

We have opportunities throughout our day to express gratitude, kindness, and to build someone’s confidence. This can imbue them with courage and strength, and it doesn’t cost a penny.

In the age of social media, our words can hurt or build now more than ever. Like Mrs. Horowitz, let's utilize our precious words to impact the lives of others.

  1. Name has been changed
  2. Brull, Boruch, For Goodness’ Sake, pg. 99

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