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Shelbi Hladik

Saying thanks: when was the last time you told a teacher?

Thursday, March 25, 2021

An elementary teacher teaches an average of 800 children during a 30-year career, and a secondary teacher has as many as 5,000 students. Yet, how many students come back to say thanks?

While an Oklahoma State University education major, Shelbi Hladik wrote letters to three of her former teachers, ranging from preschool to vocational agriculture. Then, she challenged her OSU education classmates to do the same. The ripple effect became known as Letters of Gratitude, a letter-writing campaign reaching more than 400 teachers nationwide.

“Imagine the difference it could make if everyone in one community told their favorite teacher, ‘Thank you,’” Hladik said. “I wanted there to be more positivity for the teaching profession.”

Now, a new initiative launched by the OSU Foundation and the College of Education and Human Sciences once again provides former students opportunity to tell their teachers thank you. While separate from Hladik’s Letters of Gratitude, the sentiment remains the same … donations to scholarships for OSU education students provide opportunity to publicly thank a teacher on the Wall of Donors.

Dr. Shelbie Witte, head of the OSU School of Teaching, Learning and Educational Sciences, and her husband Mike Mondoux grew up in a family of teachers. They have already donated, honoring many educators in their lives.

“You can ask any person in any field, ‘Talk to me about a teacher who made an impact on your life, and what did they do that was impactful?’ and everyone can tell a story,” Witte said. “That is what is so unique about this campaign, it is a chance to tell those folks, ‘Thank you.’”

Hladik, who is now a second-year teacher at Westwood Elementary School in Stillwater, said she often thinks of the letters she helped deliver through Letters of Gratitude. Hearing the authors describe teachers’ impact has reminded her of the importance of the teaching profession and encouraged her while leading her second-graders through virtual learning. 

“This has been one of the most challenging years of my life,” Hladik said. “Celebrating with my students in the little moments has been a huge encouragement.  Hearing them say, ‘Thank you,’ has encouraged me to keep going.”

Mondoux said he has also seen first-hand the impact of appreciation toward teachers, especially through his dad, who taught in the tiny community of Stillwater, New York.

“He taught fourth through sixth grade, so he basically taught at least one kid in every family of our town,” Mondoux said. “I saw his impact first-hand by how he would interact with students outside of class. When we told my Dad we were donating to Educating Forward in his honor, he was moved to tears.”

In addition to shining a light of appreciation on teachers, the Educating Forward campaign meets a need.

“When I first chose to become a teacher, many people discouraged me because of the low pay,” Hladik said. “However, I knew I wasn’t going to sacrifice my dream. Money wasn’t my goal in life, and scholarships helped a lot.”

With an ambitious goal of raising $3 million, Educating Forward will provide roughly $150,000 in additional scholarships annually to OSU education majors.

Hladik said Educating Forward initiative’s dual goals – sharing encouragement for the teaching profession and providing financial support for aspiring teachers – has the potential for tremendous impact. She saw first-hand how an uplifting word made a difference while leading Letters of Gratitude, and now she is optimistic for the impact tangible, financial support will have for the teaching profession.

“Sometimes, it can feel like nothing is coming from the seeds teachers plant,” Hladik said. “To have a student say, ‘Thank you so much for what you’ve done,’ makes that teacher want to keep teaching, to continue to make the future better.”

MEDIA CONTACT: Brittany Bowman | 405-744-9347 |

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