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Fourth grade was decades ago, but at least one student has not forgotten him.

It’s because of this teacher that I know that learning is one of the best things about being alive.

Fourth grade was decades ago, but at least one student has not forgotten him.

To him, I am probably long gone, lost in a distant sea of the thousands of students he led through the rough waters of institutional learning.

My fourth-grade class! Photo provided by Tina Plantamura, used with permission.


My face is one of many elementary school students that came and went while under his care in fourth grade. And to him, the story I tell might be familiar. It’s been so many years, and I know it might be hard to remember. But I will never forget that teacher.

It’s because of this teacher that I know that learning is one of the best things about being alive.

Learning was always an adventure in his fourth-grade classroom. He encouraged creativity and imagination.

And because of him, I have done the same for my three children. It was in his class that I read my first novel from cover to cover. And decades later, I bought that same book and read it with my son.

I know he doesn’t remember the last assignment I handed in, but I do.

I thought it was perfect. I hoped for a good grade. And one day after I put it on his desk, I also told him I was moving. I had only found out the night before.

He asked me why and for some reason I told him. I never told anyone else, but I stood there and told him the truth. I told him that my family was falling apart and my mother decided it was time to leave my father.

He told the rest of the class that it was free time, so they could talk and play.

He walked me out to the hallway. We talked for over an hour.

He probably doesn’t remember that day, but he’s probably familiar with something Maya Angelou has said: "People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

I don’t remember exactly what he said because it was so long ago.

But I remember that out in that dark and echoing hallway, for the first time in my life, I spoke freely. Standing in front of him, I somehow knew that I didn’t have to be afraid. He listened patiently and attentively. He made me feel important.

When I cried a little, he didn’t tell me to stop, he just waited until I wiped my tears and composed myself enough to speak again. Maybe he called me brave, because that was how I felt.

That was the last time I saw him.

The next day, we left my father.

We packed what would fit in suitcases. I said goodbye to all of my toys and stuffed animals. I looked at our bedroom for the last time. I glanced at the stack of picture albums that held images of the first nine years of my life, not knowing that those years would be nearly erased.

My mother mustered up all the bravery she could find and we left. We got in a car and drove far away.

Fourth grade was decades ago for me.

He might have grey or thinning hair by now. He might not have same bounce in his step or the same energy he had when he stood in front of me and the other students.

The glasses he wears might have a stronger prescription now, and he might be leaner or rounder. He may have retired from teaching or moved up and on to something else. He might be resting on his laurels after a long and challenging career.

But I hope that somehow he knows that he helped change the world for one little girl.

He gave me a glimmer of hope. He gifted me with a love of learning. I was freed from the burden of secrecy and fear because he encouraged me to speak.

I hope he realizes that his worth is far beyond the highest salary he has ever earned. He helped a fearful child find her voice. And I hope other teachers realize that one measure of patience or one conversation or one moment of compassion can save a student.

A teacher like him must have many students who say that their lives changed for the better because of him.

So I hope he never has moments when he wonders about his worth. I hope he never worries that he didn’t do enough. And I hope his heart and spirit are strong and keep him standing should life ever pull him down or make him think that his efforts were futile.

But should he ever feel useless and weak, should he ever wish that he did something unforgettable, should he ever fear that he is not enough, and should he ever wonder if his actions inspired someone ... I hope he'll take a moment to think about all of the students he had and all the things he did and said that changed so many young lives.

I hope he knows that his heart, his time, and his energy make him unforgettable to so many kids like me.

Images courtesy of Mark Storhaug & Kaiya Bates

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The experiences we have at school tend to stay with us throughout our lives. It's an impactful time where small acts of kindness, encouragement, and inspiration go a long way.

Schools, classrooms, and teachers that are welcoming and inclusive support students' development and help set them up for a positive and engaging path in life.

Here are three of our favorite everyday actions that are spreading kindness on campus in a big way:

Image courtesy of Mark Storhaug

1. Pickleball to Get Fifth Graders Moving

Mark Storhaug is a 5th grade teacher at Kingsley Elementary in Los Angeles, who wants to use pickleball to get his students "moving on the playground again after 15 months of being Zombies learning at home."

Pickleball is a paddle ball sport that mixes elements of badminton, table tennis, and tennis, where two or four players use solid paddles to hit a perforated plastic ball over a net. It's as simple as that.

Kingsley Elementary is in a low-income neighborhood where outdoor spaces where kids can move around are minimal. Mark's goal is to get two or three pickleball courts set up in the schoolyard and have kids join in on what's quickly becoming a national craze. Mark hopes that pickleball will promote movement and teamwork for all his students. He aims to take advantage of the 20-minute physical education time allotted each day to introduce the game to his students.

Help Mark get his students outside, exercising, learning to cooperate, and having fun by donating to his GoFundMe.

Image courtesy of Kaiya Bates

2. Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids

According to the WHO around 280 million people worldwide suffer from depression. In the US, 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 1 in 20 experience severe mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Kaiya Bates, who was recently crowned Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen for 2022, is one of those people, and has endured severe anxiety, depression, and selective mutism for most of her life.

Through her GoFundMe, Kaiya aims to use her "knowledge to inspire and help others through their mental health journey and to spread positive and factual awareness."

She's put together regulation kits (that she's used herself) for teachers to use with students who are experiencing stress and anxiety. Each "CALM-ing" kit includes a two-minute timer, fidget toolboxes, storage crates, breathing spheres, art supplies and more.

Kaiya's GoFundMe goal is to send a kit to every teacher in every school in the Pasco School District in Washington where she lives.

To help Kaiya achieve her goal, visit Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids.

Image courtesy of Julie Tarman

3. Library for a high school heritage Spanish class

Julie Tarman is a high school Spanish teacher in Sacramento, California, who hopes to raise enough money to create a Spanish language class library.

The school is in a low-income area, and although her students come from Spanish-speaking homes, they need help building their fluency, confidence, and vocabulary through reading Spanish language books that will actually interest them.

Julie believes that creating a library that affirms her students' cultural heritage will allow them to discover the joy of reading, learn new things about the world, and be supported in their academic futures.

To support Julie's GoFundMe, visit Library for a high school heritage Spanish class.

Do YOU have an idea for a fundraiser that could make a difference? Upworthy and GoFundMe are celebrating ideas that make the world a better, kinder place. Visit upworthy.com/kindness to join the largest collaboration for human kindness in history and start your own GoFundMe.

The Schmidt family's Halloween photoshoot has become an annual tradition.

Two of Patti Schmidt's three sons were already well into adulthood when her daughter Avery was born, and the third wasn't far behind them. Avery, now 5, has never had the pleasure of close-in-age sibling squabbles or gigglefests, since Larry, Patrick, and Gavin are 28, 26, and 22, respectively—but that doesn't mean they don't bond as a family.

According to People.com, Patti calls her sons home to Point Pleasant, New Jersey, every fall for a special Halloween photoshoot with Avery. And the results are nothing short of epic.

The Schmidt family started the tradition in 2017 with the boys dressing as the tinman, the scarecrow, and the cowardly lion from "The Wizard of Oz." Avery, just a toddler at the time, was dressed as Dorothy, complete with adorable little ruby slippers.

The following year, the boys were Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Chewbacca, and Avery was (of course) Princess Leia.

In 2019, they did a "Game of Thrones" theme. ("My husband and I were binge-watching (Game of Thrones), and I thought the boys as dragons would be so funny," Schmidt told TODAY.)

In 2020, they went as Princess Buttercup, Westley, Inigo Montoya, and Fezzik from "The Princess Bride."

Patti shared a video montage of each year's costume shoot—with accompanying soundtracks—on Instagram and TikTok. Watch:

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."