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New World Library Unshelved

New World Library Unshelved

Positive news and inspiring views from the New World Library community

Thursday, June 09, 2016
FORTY YEARS LATER by Dan Millman: An excerpt from Holly & Bruce Holbert’s THANK YOU, TEACHER

What do rock stars, Nobel laureates, bestselling novelists, astronauts, and attorneys have in common? A teacher changed their lives. Like them, most of us can name a teacher who gave us not only good instruction but also confidence and drive. But, in the face of teachers being blamed for a variety of social and economic woes, teachers themselves can easily wonder whether they are making a difference in students’ lives. When veteran teacher Bruce Holbert asked himself this question, his wife, Holly, responded by sending letters to hundreds of people she had never met and had no reason to believe would respond, asking about teachers who mattered to them. She was overwhelmed by answers. Thank You, Teacher presents more than eighty of these up-close-and-personal stories. 

We hope you’ll enjoy this essay featured in the book, by New World Library author Dan Millman.

# # #

Quite an odd thing happened to me while I was deeply immersed in writing a recent book, The Journeys of Socrates. I had been writing for nearly a year and was almost finished with the first draft when the thought came to me: I should write to my high school English teacher, Mr. Thompson.

I could still remember my first day in Mr. Thompson’s class. I noticed that he had had surgery for a cleft upper lip and palate, and bore a scar, along with a difficulty articulating certain words. Yet he took great care to enunciate — a care that would carry over to all that he taught, all that he did.

We studied Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town and the novel Mutiny on the Bounty. That I recall these specific literary works after forty years is a testament to Mr. Thompson’s enthusiasm and power to draw us deeply into the history, drama, and humanity of such classic stories. He was also a Civil War buff and often hilarious raconteur, going into depth on subjects that others might gloss over.

But this is only the beginning of the story. Let’s jump ahead forty years. I had not thought of him all that time, but here it was — this persistent urge to write him a letter. So I pushed away from the keyboard, picked up the phone, and called my old high school in Los Angeles, where I was informed that they didn’t keep old records; I’d have to call the Board of Education. I did so, and explained to the person in records that I wanted to write to Mr. Thompson, my tenth-grade English teacher.

“We have many Thompsons,” she said. “What’s his first name?”

“His first name? Umm...Mister?” I half-joked before remembering that his first name was Irwin. I provided this information.

“Well, we can’t give you private information,” she finally told me, “but if you send the letter to him, care of my office, I’ll do my best to see that it gets forwarded.”

So I wrote a brief letter, telling Mr. Thompson about my career as an author, and expressing my deep appreciation to him for his guidance and inspiration. I credited him with igniting that spark in me that became a love of writing, and told him that he had certainly inspired — and changed the lives of — many students over his many years of teaching.

I had no idea whether the letter would reach him or if he was even still alive. But I sealed the letter, put it in the mail, and turned back to working on my book.

About three weeks later, I received a return letter in the mail. It wasn’t from Mr. Thompson, but from his daughter, grown into a teacher herself. She wrote to tell me that her father, Irwin Thompson, had read my letter in bed just two days before he died. She wanted me to know that he cried when he read my words, and that they read the letter at his memorial soon after. 

How could I have guessed that those few words, that simple impulse to contact him just before he died, would have had such an impact? I knew that many hundreds of other students had also been inspired and energized by his example and his teaching. Perhaps I had written for us all.

I hold teachers, and the life education they provide, in high regard. For years we had a poster on our wall that said, “What if the schools had all the money they needed and the government had to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber?” The service that teachers provide is as important as the work of surgeons or attorneys or engineers. What work is more important than serving as mentors to our children?

All of us can recall one or two teachers who stand out, as Mr. Thompson had stood out for me — teachers who saw a potential in us that we did not yet see in ourselves; teachers who made loving demands on us to grow, learn, rise to the occasion.

We owe a debt of gratitude to all our teachers. It is a debt I can never fully repay, but that won’t stop me from trying.

# # #

Dan Millman, a former world champion athlete, university coach, and college professor, is the author of Way of the Peaceful Warrior, now a major motion picture. His seventeen books have inspired millions of readers in twenty-nine languages. Millman also speaks worldwide. For more information, visit

Excerpted from the book Thank You, Teacher: Grateful Students Tell the Stories of the Teachers Who Changed Their Lives. Copyright © 2016 by Holly and Bruce Holbert






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