The Best Teacher Ever

The following story is an amazing story of a fourth grader who was lucky to get an exceptional teacher at a pivotal time in his life.

That young man has since devoted his life to education and wrote this thank you note to June Dittman over 40 years later.


To My Teacher of the Year…  From your student… Mr. Cantu… Proud Russell Principal

Throughout my life, I have had many teachers.  But there is one teacher, Mrs. June Dittman, my incredible 4th grade teacher at Russell, who reached me during a time when I was struggling.

As a student,  I was very difficult to manage.  I was not a discipline issue.  I just couldn’t stay still for any duration of time.  Today, we call this ADHD.  So here, I share a story about a boy (me), who in Kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grades, was always getting into trouble for never being able to sit still.

I attended El Jardin and Perez before Russell.  My kindergarten teacher at El Jardin didn’t know what to do with me, so during kinder nap time, she assigned me to closet duty almost everyday to reorganize the supplies.  On a few days, she stood me in a far corner of our room for the whole time that the other 29 students were napping.  I remember getting yelled at, never understanding what I was doing wrong.

In first and second grades at Perez, one teacher got yarn and tied it to my wrist to the desk to prevent me from going to her desk constantly to ask questions.  I remember she cried and yelled at me once and sent me to the principal’s office.  I sat in that principal’s office for most of the day.  I was counseled and sent back to class, but I remember never wanting to return to that room.

My 2nd grade teacher taped an outline of a box on the floor beneath my desk to give me a boundary not to cross.  She told me many times to stop being hyper and to sit still.  She firmly directed me not to leave the box area unless she told me to.  One day, I needed to go to the restroom… really bad!  I tried to get her attention over and over again, but this was to no avail. After over an hour of holding it in… it happened.  I peed and pooped everywhere. I was laughed at by the other students.  She told me why didn’t I just get out of my desk and tell her it was an emergency.  I looked at her crying and said, you told me not to leave the boxed area and if I did, I would get in trouble.  She got after me for this.  I did not want to be in this class any more.

By this point, I was trying just to survive and fit in with other 2nd graders. I was made fun of quite a bit for being “that kid” who went to the restroom in class. That year after this occurred in class, I was beat up physically by students not only in my class, but by two others in the grade level.  In one incident, I was made fun of and pushed down on the sidewalk dislocating my left shoulder (arm), thus being put in a sling.  When asked about this incident by campus administration, nurse, teacher, and my parents, I reported that I tripped and fell down.  I didn’t want any more problems with anyone at Perez.  By this point, it wasn’t only my body that was broken, my spirit was broken as well.

At that time, I never told my parents about the closet, being tied with yarn, and having tape used to box me in.  I was afraid that I was always going to get in more trouble at home.  I never, ever told my parents about being beat up and made fun of for what was going on in class.

When I told my mom many years later about these events, she cried. She felt like she let me down.  I told her no, I just didn’t want to disappoint them.

Then a huge event happened!  My parents bought a home on Catherine Lane off of Honeydale.  So we moved out of our run-down trailer house close to El Jardin and moved into a house that was like a palace!

I enrolled at Russell.  It was the late 1970’s.  My 3rd grade teacher, Mrs Eva Garcia will go directly to heaven for being the supportive teacher she was to me and the other students.  She had so much patience with me, but with 30+ 3rd graders in a small portable, it must have been very challenging for her.  She did a great job for all of us. I began to like school again.  I thank Mrs. Garcia for her kindness and for her making me, for the first time in a long time, feel good about attending school!

Then I went on to 4th grade and was assigned to Mrs. June Dittman’s class.  On the first day of school she laid down the law.  We knew our roles as students.  We knew her role as a teacher.  She set the expectations firmly, respectfully, and with honor for her classroom and profession.

Mrs. Dittman quickly saw my ADHD, but instead of treating me like my K, 1st, and 2nd grade teachers, she did something extraordinary… she made me a class leader!

I was in charge of maintaining the classroom library.  This was awesome!

She did something else for me… she gave me a book, My Side of the Mountain, by Jean Craighead George. She wrote an incription to me in the front of the book, “You are like the young man in the book… smart, kind, and always willing to put others first.  I hope you enjoy the book.  It is one of my favorites!”  I read the novel that night!  The story was incredible, but the most important words were not the author’s words, they were her words that she wrote to me.

It was at that moment that I became an inspired student! A student with value.  A student who was respected.  I made a promise to myself that I would not let Mrs. Dittman down. Although I have never told her, I consider her like a mother to me.  I have also never told her this, but I love her very much!

Mrs. Dittman is what being a outstanding teacher should be!

An excellent teacher inspires, supports, corrects, knows their content, and most importantly… fosters respect and love in the classroom!

One additional note, thank you Mrs. Dittman for giving me a bible when I graduated high school.  I have had it close to me every day for almost 31 years. Your faith in God and your Christian values are an inspiration to me always. I aspire to try and be better everyday because of them.

Mrs. Dittman, thank you for being a huge part of making me the person I am today… I love you!

Editor’s Note:

Distinguished Russell Elementary School alumnus include Michael Anthony Steele and Kristoffer Kristofferson. Distinguished Alumni – Russell Elementary (

Mrs. Dittman and her husband Adolph reside in Brownsville, Texas