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A Retired American Teacher's 17-Year-Old Letter Is Still Being Used To Inspire British Children Today

When Mary Ginley wrote a letter to her pupils about exams in 1999, she could never have imagined the long life her words would have.

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This is 69-year-old retired teacher Mary Ginley, who lives in Venice, Florida. In 1998, she won State Teacher of the Year in Massachusetts.

Mary Ginley / Via Facebook: mary.ginley.3

In 1999, Ginley wrote a heartfelt letter to her students to encourage them after they received their exam results. She told BuzzFeed News she had felt “annoyed” and “angry” that children were feeling “miserable” because of tests.

Mary Ginley / Via

She told BuzzFeed News: "A fourth-grader called Claire said to me, 'We're going to have to do tests and if we don't do well we're going to be in big trouble. If we don't do well in high school, we're going to have to watch everyone else get a diploma.'

"I said to Claire, 'Do you know what a diploma is?' And she replied, 'No, but if everyone else is getting one, I want one too.'"

The letter read:

Dear Students,

You have received MCAS scores. Perhaps they were very good. Perhaps they were not.

Please remember strangers gave you these scores. And remember that there are many ways of being smart.

These strangers do not know that you can play the violin or dance or paint a picture. They do not know that you take care of your little brother after school, that your friends can count on you, that your laughter can brighten the dreariest days.

They do not know that you write poetry, wonder about black holes, and know exactly how much change you should get when you go to the market.

They do not know that you built a shed with your mom and dad, grew vegetables in a garden last summer. They never saw the social studies project you did last year. They do not know you are trustworthy, that you are kind, that you are thoughtful, that you care about what happens to old people.

They do not know you at all. But we who know you — your moms and dads, your grandparents and teachers, your neighbors and friends — love you and are proud of all you are.

The MCAS will tell you something but they will not tell you everything. How could they? The scorers don't know you. And there are many ways of being smart.

Mary Ginley
1998 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year

Ginley's letter struck a chord and was widely shared, even before social media. She said people found it in the local newspaper and would cut it out and mail it to friends across the district. "I wrote that letter when testing was just beginning to take over everybody's lives," she said. "Schools were beginning to go crazy."

She saw it had appeared on Facebook in the 2000s: "My friend posted it and I messaged her saying 'I wrote that!'"

But she could never have imagined how long a life, nor how much impact, her words would have.

In 2014 the headteacher of Barrowford Primary School in Burnley, Rachel Tomlinson, sent an edited version of the letter to her students.

The Guardian / Via

It prompted a backlash after people realised the words in the letter were not hers and accused her of plagiarism, but Tomlinson said she had never claimed the text as her own work.

Ginley publicly supported Tomlinson on Facebook.

"I am friends with Rachel on Facebook and I see what's happening at her school and I am very impressed," Ginley told BuzzFeed News, and added that she's hoping to visit Tomlinson this summer.

In 2015 another primary school sent Ginley's words to its pupils. Having forgotten the 2014 furore, news outlets reported on it all over again.

This year – 17 years after Ginley wrote it – the letter is still going viral around the UK after yet another school sent it to their pupils, prompting more heartwarming headlines.

All the time in the world for a school like this

Year 6 pupils in the UK are currently sitting SATs amid a political row over whether the revamped tests are too difficult and causing pupils distress as a result.

Ginley told BuzzFeed News she is very happy her letter is still being read. However, she said it was "sad" it was still necessary. / Via

"I am happy people have used it the way they have and I rewrote it for my granddaughter last year and sent her her own copy," she said. "People can use it any way they want."

Victoria Sanusi is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Victoria Sanusi at

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