An Open Letter to Sara Wilford from Charlotte Doyle

On the occasion of Sarah Lawrence College honoring its own deepest values by conferring the degree of Doctorate of Humane Letters on Sara Wilford

An open letter from Charlotte Doyle

May 15, 2020

Dear Sara,

Remember when so many of us gathered at the time of your retirement from the Art of Teaching Master’s Program and one after another, your graduate students who are now teachers, many in public school systems, stood and told you how you changed their lives. You established that program. How I recall the bureaucratic hoops you had to jump through to put together a curriculum the state would approve, one that nevertheless taught future teachers to respect children, to be sensitive to where each child was intellectually, socially, and emotionally, to make learning an active, joyous process. Those teachers are out there now, Sara, changing the lives of children.

You certainly changed my life. I came to you, a relative stranger, with my first uncertain attempt at writing for children. You not only made encouraging comments, you invited me to the Early Childhood Center, first to read to a class of preschoolers (something I had never done), then to visit ECC classes regularly, to learn to observe children while interacting with them, finding inspiration for new books to write. You, Sara, opened up a whole new chapter in my professional life, one that brings great pleasure. And then, remember when we realized we could co-teach a college course in Children’s Literature. What fun we had putting together a list of books we loved and wanted to teach. And I was able to witness what a gifted classroom teacher you were, leading students to insights I had not considered with the questions you raised. Even after retiring, you come back to teach one class in the course I have to teach alone now. Among other valuable lessons, you teach college students, as you taught me, how to read to little children, dramatically, pronouncing each word. My students were eager to try it. What a jolly time they had as they learned.

Of course, you’ve also changed the lives people you do not even know as an honored speaker at conferences around the world. You have been teaching leaders in education about children, how to apply developmental theories with new educational innovations as examples. I love the way you are eager to learn, how your first response to new ideas is yes, rather than no, and the way you modify them to make your own, then communicate what you found valuable in ways others can hear.

You listened to parents and discovered what troubled them. Then you became an author and wrote books that spoke to their anxieties. One book teaches them how to use children’s books to open conversations with their children about “Tough Topics” such as divorce and death; another, how to respect the different ways children as reading detectives come to learn to read; a third, on how to nurture children’s natural desire to learn. The renowned pediatrician who wrote the introduction to the book on reading captured it perfectly: “She writes with the ear of a story teller, in a style simple in the best sense, with her mastery of her subject and her sophisticated understanding shining through.” Keep writing, my friend.

With everyone you meet, Sara, you listen with empathy, you discover strengths, you create opportunities for their development, you change lives. You are doing it still, now at times with the musicians you first met in conjunction with your late husband’s work. You are like a fairy godmother to all of us. You wave your magic wand and problems become solvable; our lives richer, full of new possibilities. How lucky we are.

As always,