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From letters to love: 10 times teachers inspired us in 2019

From helping students to supporting parents, these teachers amazed and inspired us this year.
/ Source: TODAY

From inspirational messages about acceptance to informational lessons about proper wiping techniques, 2019 was a banner year for teachers. This year, we covered touching letters about standardized testing, creative ways to get students interested in writing and sweet ways of making kids with special needs feel included.

It reminded us of how thankful we are for inspiring and caring teachers who serve as role models and helpers for our kids.

As the year comes to a close, we've rounded up ten stories of times teachers were killing it in 2019.

1. Teacher's door decoration for Black History Month goes viral

A middle school math teacher created a powerful door display for Black History Month.Courtesy of Jovan Bradshaw

When Jovan Bradshaw, a middle school math teacher, saw a meme about slavery shared on her social media feeds, she decided to carry on the message to her students in a bold way.

Bradshaw created a door decoration for her classroom — to display during Black History Month — with the powerful quote: "They didn't steal slaves... They stole scientists, doctors, architects, teachers, entrepreneurs, astronomers, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, etc. and they made them slaves. Sincerely, your ancestors."

Bradshaw's display went viral.

"I’m so thankful that God chose me to deliver such a powerful message," Bradshaw told TODAY Parents. "I wanted to shift my students' mindset about slavery and the message has reached far more than I ever imagined."

2. Teacher's note to students about standardized tests is a must-read for all kids

A Florida teacher's letter to her former students about standardized testing was a reminder to all kids not to stress. Courtesy of Arehzo Poirier

As a first grade teacher in Florida, Arehzo Poirier's first experience with standardized testing was as a mom. When her son, Jack, was in third grade, he received an inspirational letter from his own teacher, telling him that, more than his potential test scores, she was proud of all of his hard work that school year.

Poirier later sent a similar letter to a group of former students who were special to her, and her powerful words went viral.

"The Florida Standards Assessments (FSA) is a big test, but it's not an important one in my eyes," Poirier wrote in the letter. "The real test is how you present yourself as a student and as a little human every day of your life. The real test is how you showed kindness to those less fortunate than yourself. The real test is how you persevered and never gave up, even when things were tough... The real test is how after two years, you all still make me proud to have been your teacher."

3. El Paso elementary school teachers request positive postcards for students

Teachers in El Paso, Texas requested inspirational postcards to give their students hope in the wake of the mass shooting that occurred there in August.Getty Images

In the wake of the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas in August 2019, two elementary school teachers asked for postcards from around the world to send a message of hope to their students.

Teresa Garrett and Elvira Flores, who both teach in the El Paso Independent School District, put out a call on Facebook for encouraging messages for their fourth grade classes, and were overwhelmed by the response.

"I read every card and letter we receive," Garrett wrote in a Facebook post about the cards. "I wish I could express how you all have made me feel, as well as my students."

"My students have been awed with the outpour of love and support we have received," Garrett told TODAY Parents. "The response has been phenomenal ... the messages are so heartfelt and make you feel warm and loved."

4. Grade school teacher turns student art into stuffed animals

Shannon Anderson inspired her students to write by turning the characters they created into stuffed animals.Courtesy of Shannon Anderson

Third grade teacher Shannon Anderson loves writing, but when she noticed her students weren't big fans of the task, she found a creative way to motivate them: Turning the characters they create into stuffed animals.

To do that, she works with them on a long-term book project. Each student writes a story and illustrates it. She then takes the illustrations of the characters and submits it to Budsies, a company that makes custom stuffed animals.

And, while providing about 20 stuffed animals can be expensive, Anderson applies for grants to offset the cost. She wants all the students to have one even if their families cannot afford an extra expense.

“Every single student’s instinct is to be in awe, to hug it and love on it,” she said of the animals. “It is something very special that they created. It is powerful.”

5. Teacher has students with disabilities in her wedding

When Colleen Powell walked down the aisle at her wedding, she was accompanied by two important men in her life: Her father, Greg Costello, and 10-year-old Dominic May.Courtesy Eve Yarbrough Photography/@eveyarbroughphoto

For two years, Colleen Powell has been teaching Dominic May, Jay Hurt and Korde Solomon, and she immediately bonded with them, even though the three do not speak much.

So when the 25-year-old Georgia woman got married this year, she incorporated the three students, who all have special needs, into her wedding.

“I'd always said my boys are going to be in my wedding because they're just the biggest piece of my heart,” Powell told TODAY Parents. “They mean as much to me as anyone else that was there.”

6. Third graders surprise classmate who lost everything in fire with all new toys

After Daniel Hunt lost everything in a house fire, his teachers rallied his classmates to hold a toy drive just for him.Kelly Jones / Courtesy of Philadelphia Elementary School

After his family's home burned down, Daniel Hunt's third grade teachers came up with the idea to hold a toy drive in his honor, to replace the items he lost.

Daniel's classmates enthusiastically supported the effort, and collected everything from board games to a football to Pokemon for the child. When Daniel walked into his classroom and saw the pile of toys that had been collected just for him, he was speechless.

"Every adult and even a few students had tears swelling up in their eyes who were in the room to witness this,'' Kelly Jones, a school counselor, said. "I feel extremely blessed to have witnessed the pure love and giving from the hearts of the third-grade students at my school."

7. Teacher's back-to-school 'baggage activity' spreads to schools worldwide

A middle school teacher's "baggage activity" went viral, and let her students know they weren't alone.Courtesy of Karen Lowe

Middle school teacher Karen Loewe always uses getting-to-know you activities to break the ice with her new students. This year, she included a new activity called "The Baggage Activity," and her Facebook post detailing its results quickly went viral.

"I asked the kids what it meant to have baggage, and they mostly said it was hurtful stuff you carry around on your shoulders," she wrote a post about the activity. "I asked them to write down on a piece of paper what was bothering them, what was heavy on their heart, what was hurting them, etc. No names were to be on a paper. They wadded the paper up, and threw it across the room."

While she expected many of the listed concerns, like divorces and deaths in the family, some things surprised Lowe. Students opened up about things like drugs and suicide, and Lowe said the activity made them more aware of what each other was struggling with.

"I've had so many kids come in that are just thankful, I think, that somebody's listening," Loewe told TODAY Parents. "I don't think I ever had a day where I just felt like 'this is what it's all about,' where my kids opened up and shared things."

8. Teacher carries student with spina bifida on field trip

Ryan Neighbors, 10, is a fourth grader with spina bifida whose day was made by a school teacher's kind gesture.Courtesy of Shelly King

A fourth-grade teacher in Kentucky went above and beyond to make sure a 10-year-old student with spina bifida could be included on a recent field trip.

Ryan Neighbors' class at Tully Elementary School was planning a hike at Falls of the Ohio State Park. But since the site isn't wheelchair accessible, Ryan's mom, Shelly King, tried to find a way to make sure her daughter could participate. Ryan had missed out on a similar class trip last year as a third grader.

This time, the mom planned to use a specially designed backpack to carry Ryan. Ryan's teacher and her personal assistant were talking about the plan when Jim Freeman, a fourth-grade science teacher, reached out and offered to carry Ryan on his back all day.

"I overheard their conversation and said, 'We can do that. We can make that happen. Done,'" Freeman said in an appearance on TODAY. "That was just one obstacle we got over quickly. ... When it was time to strap her in, she was ready to go. She was pumped and had a big smile on her face."

9. Teacher's hilarious, adorable preschool booty-balloon wiping lesson goes viral

An adorable, important hygiene lesson went viral this year, after a teacher creatively taught it with balloons.Getty Images

Parents who have suffered through wiping woes applauded a video on Twitter this year that showed a teacher with two inflated balloons tied to the back of a chair, in front of a classroom of kids with the same set-up.

The teacher, who was not identified, used the booty-shaped balloons to show students the all-important front-to-back wiping technique. Some on social media are praised the teacher's ingenuity, while also wishing they'd thought of it.

Plenty of parents said they'd love to see a lesson like this in their own schools.

"Y'all know damn well little kids BARELY EVER wipe correctly," wrote one Twitter user. "Add on that they probably listen to their teacher more than they listen to their parent(s); this is a great idea."

10. Teacher adopts student with Down syndrome after his mom dies of cancer

Kerry Bremer honored a single parent's dying wish.Courtesy of Kerry Bremer

Four years ago, special education teacher Kerry Bremer and Jean Manning, a terminally ill single mom of a son with Down syndrome, had a heart-wrenching conversation.

The pair had only known each other a short time — Jake was one of Bremer's students who had recently moved to the area.

“I said, ‘I may be overstepping here and forgive me if I am, but my family and I would like to offer guardianship for Jake if you need a backup plan,’” Bremer, 52, told TODAY Parents.

Manning’s eyes filled with tears as she nodded her head yes. Though she had supportive relatives, no one was in a position to care for Jake.

“She said, I’ll sleep better tonight than I have in a very long time,’” Bremer recalled. "Her biggest fear was what would happen to Jake after she passed."

On November 13, the day Manning passed away, 14-year-old Jake moved into the Bremer's home, which was already filled with his toys and clothes from countless sleepovers. And, Bremer, who has three children of her own, became a mother of four after she honored Manning's dying wish.

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