Appreciating “all the great teachers on earth who work so hard to give young people a world that is a better, richer, and more civilized place”

This post is by Lee Ann Potter, the director of the Professional Learning and Outreach Initiatives office at the Library of Congress.

Both of my children are graduating this spring—my son from college and my daughter from high school!  As I think about how the time has flown, I am also imagining the adventures that lie ahead for both of them. And I find myself reminiscing about their teachers, coaches, and club sponsors—the caring adults whose lives touched theirs and contributed to their interests, attitudes, and skills in meaningful ways.

I am so grateful that my children encountered certain teachers at particular stages in their development, or specific moments in their lives. I am certain that the playful spirit of my daughter’s preschool teacher and the pink ukulele that she regularly played contributed to my daughter’s love of music and her ability to pick up any instrument and bring it to life. I know, when my son broke his collar bone on the soccer field in high school, that the response and skill of the school’s trainer in preparing him for transport to the emergency room contributed to my son’s career choice. And the English teacher they both had in high school did so much more than teach them how to analyze literary texts. He kept the bar high, challenged their perspectives, built up their confidence, and helped them find their voices.

To say I appreciate these three and the many others is a vast understatement.

How I wish I had the skill of composer, conductor, author, music lecturer, and pianist, Leonard Bernstein!

Image of Leonard Bernstein

Leonard Bernstein around time of Harvard graduation, 1939

I, too, would present a “Tribute to Teachers,” as he did in Philharmonic Hall at New York City’s Lincoln Center—a program that aired on CBS Television, November 29, 1963.

Both handwritten and transcribed versions of his remarks at the Young People’s Concert are among his papers at the Library of Congress. In those remarks, he praised teachers, though lamented,

“The trouble is that we don’t always realize how important teachers are, in music or in anything else. Teaching is probably the noblest profession in the world — the most unselfish, difficult, and honorable profession. It is also the most unappreciated, underrated, underpaid, and underpraised profession in the world.”

Throughout the concert, he praised many of his own teachers, ones who brought him joy, excitement, and inspiration. Some were in the audience, including Helen Coates, whom he claimed gave him his first “really important piano lessons.” Among his papers at the Library of Congress is a photograph inscribed to her—his teacher and his friend.

The final piece performed by the Philharmonic during the concert was The Academic Festival Overture, composed by Johannes Brahms in 1880. Introducing it, Bernstein described the piece as a tribute to learning, to students and to teachers,” and that the orchestra would play it in honor of one of his teachers, Dr. Fritz Reiner and “all the great teachers on earth who work so hard to give young people a world that is a better, richer, and more civilized place.”

A group worthy of honor, indeed!



  1. Lori Dumerer
    May 3, 2021 at 1:08 pm

    As a teacher for over 40 years and why I am still in the classroom has been the excitement I receive when a struggling student finally realizes that they have finally learned a difficult concept. When students return after graduation and note they were able to do well in later studies because they continue to hear my voice “Success through failure; do it again because you can” leaves me with goosebumps, even at my age.

  2. Jan Whitehall McCauley
    May 4, 2021 at 7:32 pm

    So many awesome teachers in our family, Lee Ann. Very proud of them all! You are a great example! I’m sure you and your husband’s influence with the kids has had a great impact.

  3. Sherry L.
    May 5, 2021 at 5:13 pm

    Your post is a magnificent tribute to teachers and the art of teaching. Leonard Bernstein’s remarks still hold true but there are so many who join him in wishing to celebrate teachers and express gratitude for their guidance and influence. I am certain that many of your former students feel the same way and have continued to thank you — long after they left your classroom. It’s what all of us who entered the teaching profession aspire to!

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