robert kaplow robert kaplow robert kaplow
what's new First Chapters npr sketches shout outs coming soon alex icicle works songs/sketches me and orson welles contact fan-photos


Hello, Mr. Kaplow,

It has been 8 years 6 months and 10 days since I graduated Summit High School. I look back on everything that happened on that last year of my high school experience. Life has turned out to be absolutely nothing like I expected, yet I am not surprised. Life ain’t always sunny days. I learned that in your class. I remember that girl I was then, and I just smile at how ignorant I was. So full of hope. So in love. In love with the possibilities of the future. You were right, I did feel too much.

You wrote on my index card: “Brenda’s life lies deep within her—like buried gold—and the small surface evidence we see just gives the gentlest suggestion of all the emotional turbulence inside. She is emotional. One sees great waves of feelings pass over her face like wind ruffling and smoothing the surface of a lake. She’s like a rare jewel, so unique that most people are too blind to recognize its rarity. She sits thinking today (Nov. 18, 2011), staring at a 3/4-filled Poland Spring bottle, and she suddenly looks uncontrollably sad—a deep vein of melancholy. Then she writes, and in the act of creation that sadness seems to find release and voice. And one immediately recognizes the truth; she’s a poet.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read that. Here I am years later, and I am still trying to figure out how to write my story; instead I’ve let people control the narrative. Up until this year, the year it all went to shit. I am a part-time assistant. Recently divorced. I have no car, no money. No family around. Yet, on the year that everything went to shit, it’s the first time in years I feel free. You were right. People were too blind to recognize my rarity. Even myself. Thank you for seeing something in me that even I didn’t see. I hope you are doing well. I absolutely miss your class. Happy New Year.

Brenda Chavez, SHS Class of 2012


You would not believe who just stopped at our house randomly because they like the design and decided to just stop and ask who built our house!

Morgan Gibney and her mother!

George was just getting in the car to go to his beach job when they pulled in. When he saw their New Jersey plates, of course, he had to ask where they are from. Summit! And the story unfolded from there.

Morgan said that you got her thru her senior year and the mother said you were, by far, all of the Gibney kids' favorite teacher!

I can't recall the mother's name right now or her husband's, but she said he is a documentary filmmaker whom you know well...

Well, just wanted to let you know of this morning's happenings here in Round Pond!

Hannah Laday

Mr. Kaplow,

My name is Max Ostroff. I am an old student of yours from Summit High School. I graduated in 2013 and took your film studies class. I wanted to reach out to you to express my appreciation of you and that class I took so many years ago. You may not remember me but I remember you. Currently I am living in Los Angeles and I'm pursuing my dream of directing. I just finished my first short film which just got into a film festival. I was asked a question the other day on what made me want to pursue this very difficult endeavor. I couldn't help but bring up my experience in your class. It had a great effect on me and I am forever grateful for that.

I was with my 70-something year old dad last night, and we were talking with a 70-something year old woman about high school. She was complaining that she didn't have any teachers whom she liked when she was growing up, and my dad said to her, "You didn't even have one teacher who opened you up to the world and changed your life?" Then he turned to me and said, "Like Mr. Kaplow was for you...?"

Did you always know there'd still be ripples this many years later?

Thanks for setting it all in motion back in 1985 when you stormed into the first day of English class and recited "When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes...."

Marshall Curry,
2020 Academy Award Winner, Live Action Short Film,
"The Neighbor's Window"

This is a big one. One reason I decided to get out of radio and into TV is there was a guy in New Jersey, a very funny, sharp guy (I've just forgotten his name) who appeared frequently on Morning Edition in the early days; he had a stage name of a Jewishy sort; I think he was doing a Catskill's hotel comedian riff, and he would talk a lot about reporters on NPR, and one day I was in a taxi cab and suddenly I heard myself saying things I was quite sure I had never said.

This man had figured out how I talk, how I pause, how I phrase, how I cut, how I parse the world, and while I thought it flattering on one level, I had Nubar's fear: the fear of being a formula. The fact that this guy could almost convince me that it was me talking was positively scary, and I remember thinking, I have to change my ways or change my field of play.... A year later, I was doing TV.
Robert Krulwich

Mr. Kaplow,

I don't know if you remember but I was in your English class 8 years ago. I've been doing comedy and writing since then. Recently, a sketch I wrote won a prize at a sketch festival. A lot of the inspiration to pursue comedy came from your class and I wanted to thank you for getting me interested in creative writing....

Allyn Engle

Hello from LA and soon Missouri!

Hey, Mr. Kaplow, I'm about to start a new job in a few weeks programming for a documentary film festival called True/False. I graduated in 2011, and your class was one of the first that not only introduced me to creative writing, film, and arts criticism, but pushed me towards self reflection. Also, by visiting your site I learned Marshall Curry was one of your students too; next time I see him on the festival circuit I will be sure to compare notecards :)

All the best, and hope you're swell.
Jeanelle Augustin

Good afternoon, Mr. Kaplow,

I still cannot believe that I got to speak with you yesterday! It was so fabulous to hear your voice and to reminisce about the good ol' high school days. Ironically enough, your famous index card project came up on my Facebook memories today. 9 years ago I had posted what you wrote about me. The description is still accurate as ever! I also still have all the index cards from all of my classmates. That project was so meaningful in so many ways. It really broke down a lot of barriers between the students. I still turn to that pile of cards when I want to laugh and reminisce. Thank you for that wonderful project, and that entire year of learning and growing.

I hope all is well with you! If you are ever in the New Brunswick neighborhood, please feel free to come by the office! My office is located in the heart of Downtown New Brunswick. It would be fun to catch up! (I also manage the operations of our Flemington office; that's how I ended up calling you yesterday.) Happy to help with anything account related as well if needed!

Enjoy the weekend!


Katrina V. Samaniego
SHS Class of 2003

Just thought of you today as my children celebrate teacher appreciation day in their schools. I remember you fondly from Summit High School and the film class you taught. Just wanted you to know that an old student "appreciates " you.

Sara Prineas Wurzer

Summit High Class of '83

Hey Mr. Kaplow,

This is Deb Lee; I sat in your AP Lit class in 2014. I drew constantly in the back of the room, if that helps you recall!

I hope this email finds you well; I've been thinking about you and that class lately. But before I get into that, I have some news! Macmillan bought my books (two YA graphic novels and an unannounced picture book) in December!

While I was thumb-nailing these pages over the weekend, I was having trouble remembering some critical events from senior year that are supposed to be pivotal moments in the book. Luckily, I remembered you assigned us journal entries for Lit, and after some digging around, I found them in my Google Drive. Everything came back to me, and the draft was suddenly so much easier to produce, because I had a habit in those journals where I would record everything. Also it's a great source for genuine quotes.

There are a few thumbnails of you in the draft so far, but I changed your name slightly. (Right now, you're Mr. Kaplan. Let me know if you'd like me to switch it back). It's for a scene where I'm actually writing in that journal during AP Lit and wondering how crappy and complicated everyone else's lives are—pretty meta, right? But really, those journal entries helped me in real life, as I'm sure it did for everyone else.

Reading those entries 5 years later has been a trip. It's as though I'm reading a stranger's memoir who happened to live through the same events as I have, only with shittier writing. (My boyfriend read them, and he said, "Damn Deb, your senior year was f*cked, but at least your writing improved") Anyway. Thank you for being patient with my mediocre-at-best word-smithing.

The second reason I was thinking about you and the class also has to do with the graphic novel. (That book has been my whole life lately, if you can't tell) But this time it was your film adaptation of "Me and Orson Welles" that got me remembering. On Monday, my literary agent received an inquiry from an accredited film/tv agency (Paradigm Agency, just in case you're familiar?) for rights on the memoir. I guess my high school life was interesting enough for that! Anyway, what are some insights of what you wish you knew earlier in the process? Again, this film proposal is at its very beginning stages and a real adaptation probably won't come into fruition for a while, but I figure it's wise to know beforehand.

These memories took me down this rabbit hole where I spent a good deal of my workday (I'm a designer at LinkedIn in the San Francisco Bay Area) reading through your Wikipedia and the webpage with my peers' letters to you. Oh, I didn't know you contributed to NPR! That's awesome. I was an illustrator there last summer, and the people I knew at Morning Edition were pretty cool.

Other than that, those letters from my peers have been bringing me so many sentiments that I haven't felt in a long time. I don't even know if that's the right word though; it's a feeling that's difficult to describe well. "Nostalgia-for-people-you've-never-spoken-to, I guess? I might read them again later tonight.

Anyway, today was good! I didn't get anything done at work, but somehow I felt more productive.

I still have my index cards, by the way

(Ms. Coyle/Wright says hello!)

ANOTHER OPENIN': Allison C. Scott shines in the first-rate touring production of Something Rotten! at the State Theater in New Brunswick.

Filmmaker Marshall Curry joins classmates Cheryl Washington and Lisa Nunn (now Fox) in a shout-out from their 30th high-school reunion!

TCM Shoutout

TCM host Robert Osborne cites his affection for "Me and Orson Welles."

Signed Shoutout Book

Signed Shoutout Book

Signed Shoutout Book

Signed Shoutout Book

Mr. Kaplow!

I came across your website while I was searching for back issues of "Guarded Optimism"; very impressive!

32 years removed, I wanted you to know your training on journal writing earned me an easy "A" in freshman English at Miami University. All of those snotty Ohio students were duly impressed!

I can tell you are doing well, I sincerely hope so.

Ha! And two more things—I find myself never using the word "very" and always properly positioning "only" in a sentence; I remember those being two of your pet peeves.

I'm sure you thought "oh no" when you saw me and Brian Kasbar walk into your sophomore English class—we were a handful. Sorry about that, and thanks for pushing back and keeping us in line, just in case we didn't get enough "harnessing" from Coach Tierney.

If you do come across an old box of "Guarded Optimism" from 81-84, I would love to see a copy of something I wrote. I think it was a poem called "Demure." And yes, the girl is still around, and, no, I never did go out with her....ha!


John Bartz
Summit HS Class of 1984
Dana Point, CA

Hi Mr. Kaplow,

I'm glad you received the note—I don't think I've written one since High School!

As I mentioned, your class stuck with me through the years. Whether it was reading and writing letters to Michael Cunningham, learning Old English and crossword puzzles, or writing kind notes to classmates (in fact one former classmate approached me at the 10 year reunion and told me she always remembered my index card)—it was so vibrant and unique. So thank you.

Glad you are doing well and looking forward to experiencing the next project!

My best,
Marisa Olsen

Hi there,

Yesterday marked one year since I left Patrick, and my therapist suggested I mark the day with gratitude, so here's yours: I am grateful to have you back in my life, and for the influence you have always had on it. Your talent and humor, your insights, your perfect balance of serious and ridiculous, your great teacher-ness (language is constantly evolving, in part due to my lazy use of suffixes), the way you have always had of making me feel a little bit special, these are all things I treasure. Even during those millennia when I was incognito, I carried things you said and did in my head. (Here, for example, is the inscription you wrote in the rhyming dictionary you gave me but which I no longer have: "For Gretchen, in celebration of your talent and humor. And in apology for throwing a box of crayons on your head." An incident I remember clearly, by the way, both the crayon box and the delivery of a wrapped rhyming dictionary to my math class.) And emailing with you is a blast! (By the way, my regular customer loved JIVE IN JERSEY, as I knew he would. Afterwards, I caught him muttering "Youse douchebag fuckin' A" around me.)

Thank you for being in my life! And have a nice day!


Dear Robert,

As I told you at the retirement dinner, there are several drafts of this letter floating about. Rather than attempting to produce perfection I will instead try to complete the task. Which is actually a recurring conversational theme in our house since Sterling is researching Ralph Ellison's inability to complete his second novel after Invisible Man.

Among the potential opening lines were:
"When in disgrace..." —discarded as thematically irrelevant.
Song lyrics—"How do you thank someone who has taken you from crayons to perfume?/It isn't easy but I'll try...A friend who taught me right from wrong and weak from strong/That's a lot to learn/What can I give you in return?"

I think I'll keep that.

In return I will apply the lessons that I learned as your student and as your colleague. I will have high standards for my students and for myself. I will challenge my students to take intellectual risks. Most importantly, I will share my love of learning.

Your Christmas postcard ("War is Over") shared the center of my bulletin board with articles on Malala's Nobel Peace Prize and obituaries for Clement Price. All remind me to teach what matters, even if it is not in the Common Core.

Lunch was not the same this year. To paraphrase Jane Austen, it had lost much of its animation and almost all of its sense due to your absence.

There is a promising crop of new teachers and I have discovered a few gems among older colleagues as I know them better.

My apologies for the messy handwriting—not only am I out of practice but I never recovered from leaning to write in Cyrillic.

Enjoy your retirement and keep in touch.

Best wishes,

Dear Mr. Kaplow,

This is Mark Bailey—a former student of yours circa 1985. I wanted to reach out to both you and to Tony Akey (I took his law class and was in Student Government). I also went on to UVM where I drank a lot at his nephew's bar.

I've been living in Los Angeles for a number of years now, having moved out from Brooklyn, but I will be in the NJ area later this month and was wondering if either or both of you were around for a coffee or a bite?

Your sophomore honors English class had a terrific impact on me and thirty years later I find I still remember well a great many of the assignments (index cards on fellow students, a musical based on a novel) in addition to vocabulary words (dadaism, je ne sais quoi, elan and eclat). I remember writing a letter that you mailed to us a year later, reading Cyrano De Bergerac, and watching The Prisoner. You were the very first published novelist I ever met and I bought Alex Icicle that year and read it.

I am a writer with several documentaries and books out in the world, and a good number of unproduced screenplays (which is largely how I make my living). I really loved Orson & Me, by the way—and liked reading that you had given them 10 single-spaced pages of notes.

This is my website (aren't we all made to feel we need them?)——in case you are interested.

It would be great to see you, if you have the time or inclination. But regardless, at least know how much I enjoyed you and your class—and how much of it has stayed with me.

And please forward this along Mr. Akey, if you guys are still pals—I was unable to find his email.

All the best,

Mr. Kaplow—
Thank you so much for Skyping with us for our "Me and Orson Welles" night! People loved the book and the movie, but they really loved talking with you. You were a huge hit. People are still commenting on how great it was—I even got a thank you card in the mail from one participant. We appreciated your time and charming conversation, and I'm so glad you could be a part of the evening.

Enclosed are a few mementos of the event, and of the celebration here in Kenosha. I hope you enjoy them. Thanks again!

Best regards,
Jill Miatech
Kenosha Public Library

Mr. Kaplow—

I realize lines of connection between myself and Summit, NJ, as a whole have been relatively nonexistent in the past year, but, after yesterday, I felt the need to re-establish one of them through you. As an artsty-fartsy member of the Northwestern community, I was intrigued and excited to attend an appearance by none other than Mr. Tony Kushner. What he head to say, in today's distorted political climate reminded me so much of you and your class senior year that I felt compelled to write. It's not that you necessarily look alike, and I'm fairly sure you're not Jewish or homosexual, but simply his creative and aware "aura" so to speak recalled certain sentiments on my part that brought me back to good old SHS.

What he had to say, all in all, was something the artistic, leftist community in general hasn't bothered to truly confront in years (particularly its younger subset), and that is a true sense of understand of what's going on. I really can't do justice to his words, but the basic message of his whole spiel involved not simply creating in order to change "something," but knowing who and what you were changing and being a citizen at the same time. He stated that it wasn't enough to make art, but to be educated in terms of history and politics in order to make a piece that truly "spoke" and outlined an honest feeling as opposed to some railing "theater people against bad people!" type of product. Kushner claimed that artists must also be informed citizens as well in order to physically set change in motion as opposed to simply allowing their work to stand on its own. I feel you were trying to tell us essentially the same thing, perhaps on a different level (I mean, let's face it, most of us were spoiled white kids from the burbs.) Through each subject we covered there was always some sort of historical outline to it, or some kind of emotional attachment to the material that help us really see it as opposed to simply "learning" it. Whether it was learning about the 1950s and Brian Wilson, hearing about that crazy painter on a mountain top, or you popping anti-depressants in front of us in order to shock our self-absorbed minds out of whatever we happened to be wallowing in, your teaching really "got me" in the way that Kushner did yesterday. This isn't to say I plan to follow in the footsteps of either a great playwright or great teacher--quite frankly, I don't think I have the literary talent or patience required for either one. But, both of you change others through art and understanding, which is why I had "Angels in America" signed in your name when I waited in line forever in order to talk to him. Kushner, by the way, is an extraordinarily kind, brilliant, and unassuming mind who asked me what I planned to do w/ my life, shares my passion for NYC, and smiled when I told him about you and how you've affected your students. I'm sure you probably own the play already, and I don't know if you even really like it or not, but I figured that a signed copy never hurt anything and it's something I'd like you to have to show my gratitude, even though it's been awhile since I've so much as set foot in your classroom.

Quite frankly (though I'm aware of how lucky I was), SHS wasn't the most ummmm...well, I don't think it served as the most productive years of my life. But you, and Anne Poyner for that matter, were incredible assets in my time there and I'm so glad that I had supportive, educated, and artistically inspiring individuals to learn from. I have a voice teacher and an English professor here who have kind of taken me under their wing, and I can't wait to learn from them and experience life further....

To be honest, Mr. Kaplow, it's 8:30 AM, a bit before my first class, and I've only consumed one cup of coffee (yes, I am a full-fledged addict now.) I'm not really sure how much sense this letter makes or if you'll really get anything out of it, but I just felt the need to say something to you after experiencing Kushner. Whether it's a thank you, a message, a kind of inherent mutual understanding of something, or a combination of all three, I'm not really sure. But whatever it is, please know that you have made a difference and I plan to do fabulous things w/ whatever "it" is. Who knows, maybe one day I'll thank you in my first Tony acceptance! Good luck in your writing, your teaching (please don't think this convoluted letter is the best I can write!), your loves, your friendships, and your enduring relationship w/ literature and art. People like you and Tony Kushner offer something that is the overall theme of "Angels"—hope for the future.

Lauren Lindner

Hello Mr. Kaplow,

I was sitting at a dinner table tonight talking about the joys of social media and how it allowed me to be in touch with some of my favorite teachers when I realized that you and I had not connected since I graduated in 2010.

I want to tell you that I while I have not dyed my hair purple or pierced my tongue as you predicted, I have continued to write and started a blog almost two years ago. Because of my blog, I have a wonderful job in marketing as a social media specialist. All that is to say thank you. Much of my confidence in writing came from your praise and encouragement. I still have your postcard framed on my wardrobe at home.

I hope you are well and look forward to hearing from you!

Emilie Nolan

Dear Mr. Kaplow,

I'm not sure if you remember me, but I had you as my creative writing teacher. I hope you are well and I would like to inform you that I continue to write as a hobby and I thought of you the other day when I found the poem written about me as an observation for a class writing exercise. If you do continue to teach writing classes outside of the high school I am highly interested.... After all, your class was the only one that kept me interested in being in class at all. I've never loved writing so much as when I stepped foot into your classroom.

Kelli Zagyi

Mr. Kaplow!

News travels slowly... to Singapore at least.

Congratulations on your retirement. I know it will be even more entertaining than your time teaching.

I was one of the slackers in your AP English Class 2011-12, so you probably will not remember me. I really did not do too much in class except say something snarky once a month, or write self-loathing, hypocritical, expletive-filled rants in my journal. Anyway, in your class, there was an assignment called "Memory Revisited", or something along those lines. For that assignment, I wrote about my grandmother's house in the immigrant part of New York City and what it meant to me. That assignment has influenced me in more ways than I thought it would. Whenever I can, I write about my experiences. I write about what I know—and my family is what I know. For the past three years now, I have been writing about Queens, Eastern Europeans socializing in cemeteries, and the absurd amount of coffee I was weaned on. I completely realize why people write—why you must write as well. It's contagious, god-awfully addictive. But... it makes me happy. Well, that's enough about me. This is an email, not a f*cking journal entry.

Thanks for everything you've done as a teacher and a person. Congratulations again.

Olivia Kos

Hi Mr. Kaplow,

Allison here... There have been a million moments since graduation where I've thought, "God, Kaplow would love to hear about this." I've started an email to you several times. Maybe this will be the one I actually send.

What sparked my writing this email was that an old acquaintance of mine choreographed a dance inspired by Boyhood. I thought you might like to see it:

I just want you to know that you were right when you said you teach "AP Life."

My best friend Karlie is reading my journals. I've actually started writing a lot more since graduation. I write in a more narrative form in my journals now. Thanks for making me feel like I can write something worth reading. Thank you for helping me realize that sometimes shit is worth going through because it makes a pretty damn good story.

I also stole a lot of books from your class... the ones that I actually read. I still have The Hours and have read and reread it many times. It's my favorite book now. I let Karlie borrow that book, too. She even painted two quotes from the book on canvases and gave them to me for my birthday. I lent Cat's Cradle to my friend Kaleigh. She needs to give it back to me...

You'd be happy to know that a class I'm in called Contemporary Civilization is actually taught by a film studies teacher- so it's centralized around about four movies that we analyze in a political/cultural context.

My friends and I have movie night at least once a week. We made a list at the beginning of the year entitled, "Good Ass Movies." So far we've watched Capote, When Harry Met Sally, The Graduate (I suggested that one thanks to your class), Mr. Nobody, The Village, Lovers of the Arctic Circle (have you seen this? I watched it in Spanish class and adore it), Donnie Darko, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Dumb and Dumber, Silence of the Lambs, and some others that I can't remember.

And can I just say that your film studies class makes me sound a lot smarter than I really am? I met this guy and turns out he's really into movies (he's an acting major... we went movie-hopping? I didn't even know that was a thing). We met at a party (typical) and bonded over Europe and Star Wars, but then got to talking about other movies and turns out he loved Boyhood. Obviously that's where I totally brag about you and try and sound cool. And then that's when he tells me how obsessed he is with the Before Sunrise movies. And then we just start talking about a million other movies and Hamlet and I start quoting "I have of late, but wherefore I know not..." and throwing out tiny details about directors and movies we watched in your class and I'm thinking, "God. There goes Mr. Kaplow, being completely relevant and helping me out even when I'm trying to impress a guy a like."

Speaking of Boyhood—I watched it again over winter break with my dad, and I must say I liked it even better the second time. I think I feel this way because now I've completed a semester at college and see a little bit of what comes right after the movie ends. And it's also funny because one of my best friends at college, McGregor, is from Houston and gets emotional even just at the mention of the movie....

Anyways, there's tons to say, but I think that's enough for now.

Book suggestions? I hope you're enjoying writing and doing wonderful things.

Allison Scott
P.S. Daisy says hello.

8 January 2015
Dear Mr. Kaplow:

Thank for your letter, which was possibly the loveliest letter I could ever hope to receive. I'm only sorry I haven't written back sooner.

I was so touched that you actually remembered things I said, and bemused that they were all about food. No surprise, I suppose. Score one for consistency. Write about what you obsess about, and all that.

I think of you often. Heck, I even you quote you often. Sometimes it's to upbraid people who insist on saying "quote" when "quotation" is preferred. I also bemoan my outcast state on a regular basis. And while I realize Shakespeare wrote that, it's you who had me memorize it. Then there's Keats all silent in WASP-y Connecticut. Or the fact that Alan Sillitoe wrote The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner. And that disingenuous means "insincere."

I could go on and on. I could go rifle through the box in the basement full of school treasures, including the treatment for my novel "Clan-Destined: A Scottish Love Story," or the words to my parody of the song "Memory," called "Calories," which I know involved a limp piece of lettuce left alone in the crisper drawer (Food!).

I could tell you how I remember the first day of class where you didn't greet us, but started reciting Sonnet 29 and how I jumped when you kicked the desk as you troubled deaf heaven with your (desert-booted) cries. Or how I loved learning to splice audio tape. I also remember your fondness for Brown Cow yogurt (Food!).

But those all pale to the real takeaway: Your encouragement to write, to play with words and to fearlessly try new genres that has been with me my entire career—from SPY to Nickelodeon to Newsweek and The New York Times.

When I read and watched "Me and Orson Welles," I told everyone that it was my very best English teacher that wrote it. And yet I never wrote to you. When my mother sent me a clipping from the Summit Independent that spoke of your retirement, I promised myself I would write. You didn't get that letter either.

So I am grateful for all you taught me, but I am grateful you took the time to write.

Now if I could only convince you to meet for lunch. (Food!)


Happy New Year, and all best wishes,
Marissa Rothkopf

Mr. Kaplow:

... As for gifts, thank you for believing in me when I was an even younger writer. For putting it in writing or words all the times you did. It's a magical, transformative thing I needed at the beginning of the journey. I carry it with me knowing I've still got a long way to go.

I'm not sure I realized this before... at seventeen or eighteen and even after. I recall really wanting criticism and hard instruction and feeling kind of infuriated that you gave only encouragement. (I recall, a bit shamefully but with a laugh, being enraged when you complimented my first screenplay, leaving me desperately wondering why you didn't point out all the things that were wrong with it.) I was confused at the time, and remained so for years. But I think I understand a bit more now. You were wise enough to let me face my struggles and failures alone and in due time, which was what I was in for, what I really needed to do anyway. You opted to give me something pure and rare that I could keep over time. Something I would never outgrow. A little magic light I could keep around my neck for the long journey through the forest. The idea that I could really do it.

I tell you now, a bit into the forest, that I hold on to this. It has been important and useful and empowering. It has been both a guide and a reminder of many things. I am thankful to have it. I think it's even helped me ward off a few demons along the way.

You believing in me is one of the greatest gifts anyone has ever given me. I treasure this and will treasure it always.

Lauren Ciaravalli

Hi Mr. Kaplow,

Just wanted to give you an update on what's new in my life as a Junior in college.

First off, I officially declared myself as a Playwriting & Screenwriting major at SUNY Purchase last fall—which, I can honestly say, may not have happened without my being in your Creative Writing class and Film Studies class. You truly inspired me to create art through words.

A few months ago I submitted a one-act play that I wrote entitled Filthy Paws to Semicolon Theater Company, a non-profit organization based out of the city. I had basically forgotten about it until I received an email saying my play was chosen and will be produced next spring! Furthermore, I wrote a 5-minute screenplay which myself and Andrew Miller are filming this summer as a personal project. Who knows what will come of it, but I am hoping it turns out to be subtly remarkable. Dreaming big!

Again, just wanted to let you know that all of these things happening in my life right now wouldn't be happening if I didn't have you as my teacher. I learned how incredible it is to create stories and characters that communicate what it means to be a human being in this crazy, uncontrollable, amazing world of ours.

All the best,
Paulina Casey

Mr. Kaplow,

I'm not sure if this email will reach you or if you remember me as a student, but after hearing of your retirement from the Summit HS, I couldn't help but send this email.

When I look back on my time at the high school the most memorable class for me was your English class my senior year. Our senior journal assignment was what made me more confident in writing songs and recording them to put into my senior journal and gave me a voice I didn't know I had.

I distinctly remember you giving me the same brand of pencils that Steven Sondheim composes his music with and it always brought a smile to my face when I could put that pencil to paper and write my own songs in hopes that they could some day become as iconic as his. Now, unfortunately I can't say I've gone on to be some famous musician, but it was your class that gave me the confidence that I have today not only in my writing and songwriting, but also in my everyday life.

When I register for classes, I find myself hoping I'll have a teacher as engaging and thought-provoking as you in my college courses. Furthermore, I would always boast that my high school English teacher wrote the book that got turned into a movie and one our writing assignments was to write a review of Before Sunrise that would get sent to Richard Linklater.

Your attitude and openness to share details of your life and success gave me the faith that we truly had the power to create our own future. As cliché as that may seem, seeing you have a book made into a movie made distant dreams seem attainable. You pushed us in class to think outside of the box and for once in my academic career it wasn't enough to settle for the status quo. Creativity was rewarded and closed-mindedness was not an option.

For all that you have given your students in your teaching career I hope you find yourself happy and healthy (quite possibly still writing letters to that house that you would walk by and envision yourself writing in). I couldn't help but reach out and tell you how much of an impact you had as a teacher.

I will carry the class lessons but more importantly the life lessons you taught in our senior year English class with me throughout my life. They will resurface when I hear a Steven Sondheim song, see a movie with Zac Efron, or pass by the Summit High School and revisit the fond memories I had during my senior year. Best of luck with everything you do!

All my best,
Taylor Kastenbaum
Class of 2012

Mr. Kaplow—

I never had you as an English teacher, but beggars will always be choosers because that's how we roll. I did have a sh*t-ton of fun in your Film Studies class and I think you're an incredible person. Every idea that comes out of your mouth is awesome and I strive to think, act and write like you going into college and the future. Thank you for teaching me how to be original and flaunt it (not in a weird way).

Emily Drake

June 2014
Dear Robert,

For much of the time I have been at SHS I have felt that I was standing in your shadow. That is not a bad thing. In fact, you have influenced my teaching more than you can imagine. When I came to the department there were many strong teachers (and personalities). I think about those days, and our freewheeling department meetings—you, Kisch, Tim Lucas, Eleanor, great teachers and great people. But you were "the creative one," and that was what I most wanted to be. When you began to take note of me, to recognize me as a kindred spirit, a collaborator in the Big Book of Shtick, it was a validation of my style, because you are beloved—a true Master Teacher.

I hope you know how kids speak of you and your classes. You are the great performer, but the only one who knows literature like a college professor and conveys the intricacies of language. No one else teaches language. They teach literature or writing or grammar, but not the elusive quality of beautiful language.

Teaching AP beside you was intimidating, but it gave me license to teach the books not the test. Passing you in the hall sharpened my wit. I wanted to parry quip for quip. Talking about books and film and plays forced me to hold my own with a man I consider brilliant. Talking about dogs gave me pleasure. I wrote a first draft of a novel literally basing the structure on Me and Orson Welles. I don't know if I would have attempted it if you had not been there to show me that a high school English teacher could be a successful novelist.

I will miss you and your large presence. You have been especially important to me this year since we both lost our best friends. I will continue to follow your writing career vicariously and will be happy to travel to the next premiere of a Kaplow/Linklater Production. I hope you will stay in touch.

Have a good, happy, productive retirement.


Mr. Kaplow,

...I'm currently with Rob and your feedback has definitely given us a lot to talk about. The path we're taking the film in is now plain as day thanks to you. We hope you know that we don't only appreciate this but we appreciate you as a teacher. We can both agree that you have inspired us in ways no other teacher has, even in college. It truly saddens us to know that your teaching days are over, but we know that you'll continue to inspire others. To show our appreciation for all you've done, we'd love to invite you out to lunch. If not, perhaps coffee. If not, perhaps brunch. If not, perhaps cheese and crackers. Whatever you're up for. If you don't have much time on your hands, it doesn't have to be more than 15 minutes, we just want to have a final discussion of the film, personally thank you for everything, and bid our farewells... We feel we owe you that much. If it doesn't float your boat, we fully understand... But we sincerely hope we haven't seen the last of you.

Thanks again for the influential lessons you have taught us and of course for the useful feedback. We're delighted that you enjoyed what our creativity can offer.

—Allan Guerrero and Rob Chase

Mr. Kaplow,

It's Dan Johnson from the class of '97. (AP English '96-'97 and Honors English '94-'95.) I read the book and watched the film Orson and Me. I enjoyed both and also enjoyed telling people that my English teacher wrote the book. It brought me back to reading your other books: Alessandra in Love and Alex Icicle.

I recently found some notecards that you had our class send to one another. I can't remember the exact instructions, but the cards each contain a quote and a short message. There were clearly inside jokes and references to things I can no longer remember on the cards, and yet they still resonated.

I've been in Chicago since graduating from college. I took the boring way out and went to law school and have been a lawyer for the last decade. Sometimes it's rewarding and other times it's just an opportunity to work on my "thinking about something" face. Just kidding. I've got that face mastered already. Mostly I just try not to look too excited when I get an email announcing doughnuts are in the break room.

I'm married and have two little girls and I enjoy spending my weekends being put in time out and answering enough serial "why" questions that I come to the conclusion that my three year-old has identified a true absurdity.

I fondly remember your class. I think I remember more of your class than the rest of my classes combined. I tell people about the 90-line rhyming couplet assignment, making movies in lieu of writing papers, and memorizing Shakespeare soliloquys, regularly. That sentence shouldn't make you conclude that I didn't just spend five minutes checking the spelling of soliloquy.

I hope all is well. Keep writing the books.

Dear Mr. Kaplow,

My daughter, Katie Maltese, was one of your students last year. Katie loved your class and always speaks so highly of you. Katie often said you were the best teacher she ever had. We know that you will be greatly missed at SHS and wanted to wish you all the best in your retirement....

On a final note, Katie is transferring to Boston College this fall to major in Education. It was teachers like you that were her inspiration! It must be very rewarding to know that you have had such a positive impact on your students. Best wishes for a happy, healthy, fun retirement!

Patricia Maltese

Dear Mr. Kaplow,

I have just finished my sophomore year at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut and when I came home I was saddened to hear that you will be retiring from teaching at the end of the school year. I hope retirement gives you more time to do what you love and you find a sense of happiness knowing you touched the lives of every one of your students. As for the future I was wondering if you could give me an email I could reach you after your Summit High School issued one is deactivated. I would love to stay in touch. Thanks!

—Ben Fine

Dear Bob,

Just wanted to take a few minutes to tell you how wonderful it was to get to know you even if it was only over hall duty chats! You are truly a one of a kind! Your stories and impact on the students are only a part of what makes you such a legacy! Though I am sad to see you go, I am sure life has many new and exciting adventures awaiting! Congratulations on a phenomenal career and thank you for making SHS such a friendly, positive place to work. Your loyalty and devotion are so admirable and I am truly grateful that I got to know such a wonderful, classy, smart, interesting man. Wishing you happiness, health, and good fortune.


Dear Mr. Kaplow,

I'm not going to lie, writing this card was/is particularly intimidating in its own way. I suppose it's because I'm acutely aware that it is effectively the last piece of writing I will ever submit to you, and I've invented pressure over that. I thought about getting you a little gift to accompany this card but I can't imagine that you really want another random gift card, crappy mug, or bouquet of flowers ever so conveniently packaged so that water spills everywhere when you try to open them, so the card will have to stand alone. I wanted to thank you for being a uniquely inspiring teacher and positive intellectual influence. Your unique approach to teaching writing, literary and film analysis, and general language arts has taught me that life isn't formulaic and that beauty can be found only after we stop trying to force it to be. I feel that that alone, the fact that what I have learned from this year's English class speaks to assessing life and the pursuit of beauty within life as a whole, shows volumes about the type of incredible teacher and well-respected mind that you are. I have tremendous respect and admiration for your skill, ability, and perspective, but even more than that, for your willingness to share these things with a bunch of hormonally overactive teenagers with under-developed pre-frontal cortexes and cerebrum.

Your dedication to teaching leaves me forever grateful. At the risk of sounding overblown, I think it was viable to say that if every student had one year in your class, we'd end up with a population that has a much better understanding and appreciation for wit, irony, humor, artistry, language, literature and beauty, and maybe with a society that has finally learned how to be less literal.

Regardless of all of that, the point at the beginning of this was simply for me to express my gratitude for the opportunities and experiences your class has given me throughout the course of the year. So, in the simplest terms, thank you. I have been so fortunate to have you as a teacher.

Kayleigh Fowler

Mr. Kaplow,

Thank you for changing the way I think. I learned in your class that everything has deeper meaning. I learned the difference between enjoying and respecting pieces of literature and art. And finally I learned the importance of a handwritten note. I'm disappointed you are leaving Summit High School but I respect why you are. Thanks again.

Nate Bowyer

Dear Mr. Kaplow,

I'm sure you get this all the time but I think you're such an awesome person. You're not only super interesting, but you have this genuine kindness that I wish everyone could have. I can honestly say the Creative Writing 2 class I took this year has been one of the best classes I have ever taken. Not once was I bored or uninterested. You've done a killer job here at Summit High and you will always be remembered. I know I'm hardly one of hundreds of students you've taught but I could not leave this school without telling you how fu*king great I think you are. And I promise I'm not trying to be a kiss-ass when I saw I loved your book. I'm not sure I'll ever meet anyone as cool as you to be honest. I also apologize for not being able to write this as beautifully as you deserve. I consider myself lucky to have gotten to know you so well and I will forever have a deeper appreciation for Daleks, the Beach Boys, South Pacific, Waking Life, and creativity in general. Thanks again.

Emma vonHaas

June 23, 2014
Dear Mr. Kaplow,

I wanted to thank you for a great film studies course. I had no idea what I was in for, but it exceeded my expectations. I loved your class, and appreciated the movie choices throughout the semester. This class helped me develop a sincere interest in films, and some of my now favorite actors include Humphrey Bogart and Robert Redford.

I know that the whole class definitely appreciated your style of teaching, and how you treated us as the mature young adults we are becoming. The discussions we had after each movie were actually quite engaging, and I tried to be as insightful as possible.

Congratulations on your retirement, and I wish you the best in your next adventure.

Paul Flanagan

Hello Robert,

I am thinking about you and your busy last days. I also saw the beautiful letters on your website; one nicer than the next.

I'd be remiss without sending you my thoughts; however, a tribute cannot convey all of the love for our years of friendship and the value of that friendship to me. In that spirit, I relish in all of your success: be it NPR with the Punsters in the early days, Alessandra in Love (first publication) or in a New York premiere of Me and Orson Welles. You are astounding, inspiring, and amazing. You and Tony Akey changed my life in immeasurable ways.

Much love to you always.
Susan C. Taylor, Esq.

Dear Kap,

As usual, you wrote the best line. At the retirement dinner, you said it best. No, not the the line about go f*ck yourself—which was also stellar—but your one parting line: Thank you for all you have taught me.

That's what I want to say to you. From the first day I arrived at SHS, you guided me through all the important information and away from all the bullsh*t. On my very first day at SHS, I was overwhelmed and in a panic. I was told, in addition to everything else, to familiarize myself with all of the SHS binder of information. I thought I would plotz. Remember that SHS binder covered in maroon, which gave you the "official" information on all things SHS?

I told you that I was to familiarize myself with the 150 pages of information, and you said, "Put that away. I'll let you know when something important comes along." And you did that for the next 19 years.

You taught my wife and were so kind to my children. None of that will ever be forgotten. (Though Lisa has forgotten everyone else who taught her at SHS.)

You have been a great friend, mentor, editor, and confidant. I have so many wonderful memories, and I just can't imagine walking past your room with someone else in it. We should have had at least two more years. But there's a sad, eternal truth to what happened: There's always a douchebag who ruins it for everyone.

Who will I groan "a-bruch!" with? Who will I bump into at "the office"? Who will I eat "getaway" lunches with? Who will I share the latest news about film, music, and the world? Who will give me a peace-sign on his way past my door towards the weekend?

SHS has lost a legend, but selfishly, and so more importantly, I have lost so much more. I will miss you every day, Kap.

With love,

Hi Mr. Kaplow,

I've heard through the grapevine that this is going to be your last year at SHS, and I just wanted to be able to contact you before you were no longer required to check your school email account on a semi-regular basis. Although it has been five years since I sat in your second period AP English class, I just wanted to thank you for being one of the most memorable teachers I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. I myself have just finished my first year of teaching (second grade!!!) and I now thank you with a newfound sense of appreciation for all that you did for us. High school seniors are huge assho*es; I will never understand how you put up with my class (and every class) for as long as you did. Summit High is certainly losing one of its greats, but I know you are probably looking forward to a relaxing retirement where you are free to write, create, or simply do nothing all day. Enjoy your last few days of school, and happy retirement!

Alyssa Fine

June 18, 2014
Dear Mr. Kaplow:

I wanted to take a moment to let you know how influential your teaching has been for my family.

I had you for creative writing my senior year in 1985. I still remember the assignments we had and how much I enjoyed writing the different pieces for class. I have always loved to write and the freedom we got to express in our assignments in your class helped mold my writing in college and beyond.

My daughter Brittany had you last year (2012-13) for AP English and enjoyed all the writing she did. She valued the creativity she was able to infuse into every assignment. She is leaning towards a media and society major with a concentration in writing/screenwriting and minor in English at Hobart and William Smith College. She credits her love of writing to many teachers and assignments but your class was really the impetus for her passion. She relished hearing about your novel writing and your experiences turning your book into a movie.

Your gift for teaching and for inspiring kids to want to reach and express themselves is special. Your real world book/movie experiences translate to the kids and make them realize they can achieve and be creative. There is so much emphasis on non-creative subject matter these days and business readiness for high school students. I thank you emphatically for instilling and nurturing the love of creativity in me and my daughter. I am sad my son will not have the chance to have you as a teacher.

I wish you the best going forward. While I remained close to Tony all these years after high school, I never really connected with teachers who are still there unless I went to school with them. It is a testament to Summit that so many have stayed and taught generations. Thanks for your passion at Summit High School. You will be greatly missed.

Laura Graff Coburn (1985)

June 15, 2014
Dear Mr. Kaplow,

Your farewell/thank you letter assignment felt so therapeutic to me that I've decided to continue it on my own time. There are so many more than just 4 people who've made a significant impact on my life, and you are one of them.

Every school has its "cool" teachers, and you are undeniably one of Summit High School's best loved. I feel privileged to have learned from you and even more privileged that I am part of the last class you'll teach.

Few teachers, it seems, are able to impact so many students. But your wisdom is not lost on many. I'd like to think I speak for most people when I say it is easy to admire your authenticity.

As a writer, I found your lessons and assignments especially poignant. You forced me to think outside the box and push my limits, and I can honestly say that I was always eager to see your comments on my work. I don't write on my own nearly as often as I should, and your classes (Creative Writing and AP English) helped to make up for that. I can't place exactly why, but your feedback has been important to me from a writer's standpoint, and I truly appreciate all of it.

Thank you for being a teacher, a fantastic teacher. Thank you for exposing me and all of your other students to the surrealistic works of Pablo Neruda, and the gorgeous elegies by Rilke. And for having fun with us! I think that your classes have uncovered the creativity in the least creative people, and nurtured the creativity in those who may be more predisposed to it.

I hope that in your retirement you continue to teach people, just not as a paid teacher obviously. I know that I will always remember you and your classes with appreciation, and I hope that you've found your career as fulfilling as it can be. Looking forward to reading the next book you publish!

Carolyn Saxton, class of 2014

Dear Mr. Kaplow,

Jeez, I have a lot to live up've gotten some fabulous thank you cards over the past year. Anyway, I just want to say a big THANK YOU for you and your class. I've never really loved coming to English class, but this year I have. You have a current, fast-paced class and you don't believe in rigid curriculums...when I heard that at the beginning of year, I was like "Hallelujah, an English that GETS it." Another compliment, I love how when interpreting books/poems and themes, you never tell anyone they are wrong, and then tell them the "right" way for it to be interpreted. I can't even tell you how many teachers I've had who believe there is only one way to view a work of art. Last compliment, (for the card) you have some of the most original, innovative project ideas. How do you even come up with them? And you are one of the few adults who is gifted at listening and figuring kids out. That's why Summit is so stupid in letting you go. Kids everywhere will be remissed that they can't have the famous Mr. Kaplow as their English teacher. I think I wrote more in your class than any other class, but it doesn't even feel like it. Not to be creepy or anything but I recorded some Kaplow Quotes in the back of my journal once I discovered you had a gift with words (and was retiring.)

—"Don't take a complicated piece of work and reduce it to a fortune cookies." (on OF HUMAN BONDAGE)
—"You could photograph that sentence."
—"Let's call her Lynn."
—"I mean in Summit most water bottles are filled with vodka anyway."
—"I probably ended up sending over 50 postcards to that old house."
—"Not that it bothers me, just ___over there."

Since I know you won't eat food because you think we poison it, please enjoy this gift. Hope to see you in the future; after all, we're in the same karass.

Marissa Murray (M.)

Dear Mr. Kaplow,

I wanted to let you know that I really appreciated your decision to make a statement for Mr. Akey with an early retirement. My family has known Mr. Akey for a while because he had been close with Maria and told me when I came to high school to come to him with any problems. I think you'll be very happy with your decision. Personally, I don't know how you've handled high-schoolers for so long.... I hope you enjoy the rest of your writing career.

Thanks for reading my journal entries, some BS quizzes on the books we "read," and for helping me get a letter to A.

Maria diMayorca

Dear Mr. Kaplow,

Thank you so much for being an amazing teacher! Being a part of your class this year was so much fun and I'm glad that I was switched into your class at the beginning of the school year! It was an honour to be your student during your last year of teaching. Hearing your stories and your casually inappropriate jokes in class made class enjoyable. Have a wonderful summer and I wish you the best on your future writing projects!

Sneha Donha (that Indian girl)

P.S. Thank you SO MUCH for that Zac Efron autograph. You made my year!
P.P.S. I've added my autograph in this envelope so you have my signature when I become a famous Bollywood actress! I will surely write to you about my progress!

Dear Mr. Kaplow,

I heard about your retirement through the grapevine and wanted to write and congratulate you both on your incredible teaching career and also on your newfound time to pursue your other work. Yet while I am thrilled for you, I can't but feel badly for the classes of kids coming through the hallways of SHS who will lose out on the unbelievable experience of learning from you.

The lessons I learned from you, both while working on Quintessence and in your classes have, without question, made me the person I am today. Not a week goes by when I do not draw on the experiences I had as your editor-in-chief or the books I read in your AP English class. I see the world through lenses you helped me hone: my love of language, reverence for creativity and thirst for originality all have roots in your very special classroom.

I am sad for the future students who not get to be moved, shaped and inspired by your presence in the classroom, but I am certain that in retirement you will continue writing and inspiring others with your wit and creativity.

Congratulations again—I would love to hear from you sometimes.

Jacqui Jarrold

Dear Mr. Kaplow,

Thank you so much for including me and Alina in the very special showing of Boyhood. It was so exciting to see the movie before it was released and it was simply wonderful. Zoë and Alina have been talking about it all weekend and as I have seen Zoë's friends, they too have raved about how it captured their childhood.

It was an incredible event and such a gift for you to share with them. You have been a very special teacher, mentor, and wonderful human being who has touched all of their lives. You will be missed.

Arlene Patrick

Dear Mr. Kaplow,

I know most people refer to you as Bob, but to me, you will always be Mr. Kaplow. My teacher. My mentor. My friend.

I can't begin to express what an inspiration you've been to me. You not only supported my filmmaking aspirations and storytelling voice, but you put up with all my juvenile shit as a rambunctious teen in AP English. That alone probably entitles you to a medal of sorts. Perhaps one day, when next our paths cross, I will present with you such. 'Till then, this letter will have to suffice.

It's difficult to write this email. I haven't prepared the words, nor do I believe they will ever truly come. All I know is, whenever I struggle with a creative pursuit—be it a screenwriting passage I want to really nail, or an editorial decision in my post production processes, or mustering the courage to put myself out there on Hollywood's radar despite the chokehold of self-doubt—I think of you. Your English lessons. Your unwavering support for the SHS film festival. Your honest critique of my films and songs. You are a continuous presence in my creative mind. And I don't believe that will ever cease to be.

Summit High will not be the same without you. My mother can attest to that. Thousands of SHS alumni can as well. I like to think of myself as the king of that alumni roster. As president of the Mr. Kaplow fan club. But I know I am not. You are simply too powerful a force to grace the life of only one student. And so the legend of Kaplow lives on...

If nothing else, consider this email a thank you. You will never know how much you have helped me. And that's okay. I wouldn't want you to get cocky.

I wish you the best in this journey you are to embark on beyond Summit High. Can't wait to read your name again in the trades (the Hollywood trades that is), or on the bestseller rack at the local Barnes & Noble. Yours is truly a voice that could change the world. I know it's changed mine.

Thank you.
My teacher.
My mentor.
My friend.

All best,
Noel Poyner

To the Koolest Kaplow I Know,

For one, whoever knew a 26 year old Black woman could love so much about a __ year old Russian American man! (pause for laughter)

With all seriousness, you have truly been a blessing to me throughout this entire year! From reading over my college essays, to dealing with me and my self-reflections and critiques all the way down to having philosophical discussions about gentrification or political correctness, relationships, how to write tactful e-mails to tactless co-workers, etc. Thank you for simply being you!

I never felt like I had to "put on airs" or tiptoe around certain subjects or worry about you blabbering something off about what I said. I felt like I was taking to that Uncle when I would talk to you (every family has that cool, down-to-earth Uncle). My only regret is that I did not get to know you sooner! You are truly an inspiration, a mentor, a guider, an ear, and most importantly, an open-minded intellectual. I know that your students are going to miss you...but please know that I am going to miss you as well! I pray that you are able to excel in all capacities after you leave SHS. I pray that you receive abundance in your future pursuits. Most of all I pray that we are able to keep in touch!

No matter what happens, you'll always be Kaplow Kool to me!

Asha Bailey

Dear Mr. Kaplow,

"Letters of farewell." There's a title for an assignment. There are a lot of people to say goodbye to, but it's really nice to have the opportunity to say it in writing (a form in which I am much more articulate.)

When I was a mere lowly freshman four years ago, everyone would talk about the awesome English teacher who was a famous author. My gym locker was next to those of a group of girls who had him for AP Lit. They would frequently mention his class and writing in their senior journals (often scandalous content in the eyes of my innocent freshman self.) I would think how cool this teacher must be if people shared all this gossip with him in journals.

Sophomore year of course I signed up for Creative Writing, and everyone told me how lucky I was to be put in one of Kaplow's classes. From day one I saw how right they were. Your class was the best part of my day every day. Before I took it I would just write as a hobby. It was a nice thing to do when I was bored. Even just a week into Creative Writing though, I wanted to be a real writer like you. The things you had done, the people you'd met, it was all so cool. Yet, it was the way you taught writing that really pushed me over the edge. I saw that this awesome, fun thing I really loved to do didn't have to just stay a hobby; people made careers out of it every day.

I also never knew how much I liked writing episodes for TV shows, or scenes for plays or movies. On my own I hadn't even touched so much of what I love. You're the one who showed me what was possible, what I could do with my life. For that I will never stop being grateful.

Part of who I am is that I never think what I do is as good as what anyone else does. On top of that, no one else had ever encouraged me to pursue language and words. But the day you first told me that I should stick with what I was writing, that it was good, I can't explain how much it meant. As a teacher you have more than just helped my work advance. I have become a more confident person because, hey, this amazingly talented person thinks I'm good! He thinks I can pull this off. And really, who says I can't?

This assignment is letters of farewell, but I sincerely hope we keep in touch. I'd love to hear about what you work on in the future, and as always get your opinion on what I write...

Thank you,
Zoë Patrick

Dear Mr. Kaplow,

I just want to say that your English class has been my favorite class that I have taken in high school. You bring a great sense of humor to class everyday, and you constantly make me laugh....

Although I have only known you for one year I have had the opportunity to see what a great teacher you are. One of things I admired about you was that you assigned projects that you thought were fun and creative. There was not a single project you assigned this year that I didn't look forward to completing. I never told you this, but one of my supplements for Notre Dame asked me to explain a project in high school that I thought was out of the box and had an impact on me. For this supplement I wrote about the notecard project we did in your class. That project was hands-down the most rewarding/creative project I have done in high school.

When I heard you were retiring my first thought was that Summit High School just lost their best English teacher. I have seen throughout the year everything you do for the faculty and students of Summit High School. I don't know any other teacher who would go through the trouble of getting the seniors a private screening of a movie. Summit High School won't be the same without you. Twenty years from now when I look back on my high school career your senior English class will be one of my most prolific memories. I wish you the best of luck in the coming years. I hope we can stay in touch. I can honestly say you have become my favorite teacher in Summit High School.

Kyle Crotty

June 3, 2014
Dear Mr. Kaplow,

As we both close out our senior years at Summit High School, I would like to thank you for a unique senior experience. Although I didn't technically "read" all of the books...or any for that matter...I still felt like I was able to learn a lot and come away with plenty of writing that I was proud of. You are unlike any teacher I've ever had because it was never about following the robotic curriculum. Every project we did had some sort of meaning, and I enjoyed doing them. Every teacher always says they are preparing you for college. You prepare us for life. It always felt different because you treated everyone in the class more like humans than subjects or lab rats. You're probably the only teacher who I'll ever trace my middle finger on a quiz for and just laugh about it (even though it was your suggestion.) Not many teachers have a sense of humor like yours and it made my year that much more enjoyable. I never really had to hold back some of my stranger ideas because you embrace creativity. Thank you for breaking the mold of the prototypical teacher and even though this letter may be corny, thank you for the memories (I swear I didn't get that from a cliché Fall Out Boy song.)

Your friend,
Eric Lyman

Dear Mr. Kaplow,

I know that you have received hundreds of these kinds of letters from your students, but I figured you're leaving after this year so maybe you wouldn't mind reading one more. As unbearably cliche as it is, yes, your class has changed my life. But what does that mean? It means that, either directly through your feedback or indirectly through your assignments, I now wake up every day a little happier, and a little wiser. EVERY DAY! For a young guy like me in the most moldable years of my life, that's saying a lot. I can't express how much that means to me, and quite honestly I don't know where I'd be right now without your class—probably the loony bin, as I like to say. Keeping a journal in particular has kept my head straight and has allowed for me to not only survive the troubles of my life, but also to look back in reflection and learn from them. Selfishly, I wish you would have stayed at Summit High School so that you would continue bettering the lives of other students, but the Lord knows you've done that for decades already. Although your retirement is bitter to say the least, you, more than anyone I've ever known, have earned it. I'm sure the decision to pull the trigger on your retirement was difficult, and it is honorable that you're sticking up for the wrongs committed against a friend and colleague. You will be missed.

From the bottom of my heart, have a great life, good luck with all your future movie-making and novel-writing endeavors, and thank you. They may not sing songs about you, but you are certainly a hero to me.

Michael Williams

Mr. Kaplow,

I recently learned that you are retiring from Summit High School and wanted to reach out and wish you well.

Like many of your former students, I have thought many times about contacting you and simply sharing what a positive impact you had on my education and life (excuse the dramatics). You supported my interest in creative writing but more importantly it was my independence and confidence that benefited most.

I've held on to my love of reading and still relish making the "movie in my mind" as I read. A few years ago I found an out of print copy of Alex Icicle for my older son. He enjoyed the read but it didn't resonate with him like it had with me—clearly he wasn't pining for his "Amy Hart" like I was when you introduced the book to me.

My memories of English and Journalism classes at Summit High School remain bold and clear which is not something I can say for most of my course and teachers. The material could have been the same in another school or class, but your imprint is what has endured.

Thank you for what you provided me and countless others throughout your career.

Best regards,
Ron Friedman
SHS class of '88

Mr. Kaplow,

I thought about putting a subject for this email, but I had trouble coming up with one, even after finishing writing this email. Yes, I did proofread it.

I just moved out and came back home today, and on my desk was the letter that I wrote last year. My mom asked me, "Did you see that letter on your desk? Did you write that, because I recognize your handwriting."

This letter was so awkwardly cute to read. That's how I'm going to describe it. For some reason, I was unnecessarily detailed in my description of what was happening at that very moment of writing the letter. But nonetheless, I enjoyed it very much. It made me smile.

In addition, on my desk were a couple of the past issues of the Verve. I read your piece "37 Things That Delight Me" and initially thought, "Wow, this would have been a great index card to write about yourself." It makes me a bit sad and bitter that some of those 37 things are about the class of 2014, but then again, I think about how I am really happy I'm not in high school anymore. It would be a lie to say that I don't miss anything from high school and Summit, but in all honesty I do miss it, because I call this place home.

I remember asking you right before school ended last year if you were going to retire soon, and I believe you said something along the lines of "If this job is still entertains me and I still find joy in teaching. I probably won't retire for another couple of years." Well now... I was there right before you left and came at the right time.

I'll be around the high school before school ends. (It has this magical power that sucks graduates back, no matter how hard we try to stay away...) I would like to give you that congratulatory handshake of retirement that everybody has given you.

Thanks for making me smile today.
—Isobel Chang

Hey, Mr. Kaplow!

This is Connor Hanley if you're wondering—I just set up my new college email and I wanted to test it to see if my emails to Summit High School teachers just get bounced back as spam like they did with my old Yahoo account. I figure, who better to email than Mr. Kaplow! I've actually been trying to find you at one of your free moments since the AP exam, but to no avail.

I think it's safe to talk about the free response now, as it's been 2 days since the exam and they release the questions. I just wanted to say that I did a complete turnaround with the choice that I used for the 3rd essay. While I thought I was going to use Hamlet (one of the most mainstream topics for the 3rd question, I'm assuming), I ended up doing the exact opposite...

...I used Siddhartha!!! Surprise! ...It was like you KNEW the question when you assigned us to read that book! It was perhaps a 1/1000000 chance that the question might have applied to Siddhartha, yet indeed it did. I am just very thankful that you had us read that book, as a I would have undoubtedly bombed the last question because I had no backup to Hamlet...except perhaps the book we literally JUST finished reading!

I'm sure I'm not the only one who used it, so I'm letting you know now that you may be pleasantly surprised with our scores on that particular essay (and the AP exam as a whole!). It's only fitting that Mr. Kaplow, the magician of Summit High School, had one last astounding trick up his sleeve before he left in complete and utter STYLE!

Anyway, I just want to thank you for a great year as a whole, and for making English a fun class to be in (I'm getting my nametag to you on Monday, I promise!).

I guess all that's left to say is one simple word: Om. That's what the essay was all about. Om.

Thank you,
Connor Hanley

Dear Mr. Kaplow,

It's teacher appreciation week and I just wanted to thank you for being that teacher I will always remember. It's a shame you're leaving but I respect your reasoning. You are the only teacher who really let me be myself and I am so thankful that I was allowed to truly express who I am in your class. You will be missed, but I wish you luck in your future endeavors. I'm trying to sound sophisticated here, but I don't think it's working but I know you won't judge me because you are just that awesome. So sad you're leaving, but have fun!

—Kerina Dinkins

Dear Mr. Kaplow,

Thank you so much for writing that letter of recommendation. I appreciate the kind words you said about me and my writing. I look forward to developing my skills further this summer. I am very fortunate to have had you as a teacher this year. Being in your class always made my day a little brighter.

Amanda Vitti

Hello, Mr. Kaplow,

After reading your "37 Things that Delight Me", my slight disappointment that I would never have you as a teacher magnified significantly. I have heard so many absolutely wonderful things about your class but also just you as a person and I just wanted to learn from you oh so badly.

Allow me to introduce myself; my name is Louisa Fowler. I am in Itriyeva's sophomore Honors English class and it has always been my favorite subject. I can say with pride and honesty that I have not seen a single episode of Breaking Bad or How I Met Your Mother because I spend all of my time reading (I try and do a book a week). I am also in the drama club (I played Lorainne Flemming in 42nd Street).

Just like you, I would love to make teaching English a career for myself after college and I would also like to try writing. If you have the time or interest, I would love to get a chance to talk with you and hear about what your experiences were like as an English enthusiast and how you got to be where you are today. If not, I would really appreciate advice via email.

Thank you for your time!
Louisa Fowler

(PS: I too am a fan of Anna Yurkova's accent)

Dear Willie,

I can't thank you enough for the beautiful pocket watch. I will always treasure it, and someday so will Jake...and perhaps Jake's son.

You are really the only one from whom a retirement gift could mean so much. What a magical run we've had. Best of all of course is the love and friendship we grew in Summit. Helped thousands of kids and adults but the person I helped the most was myself when you and I became friends. I've never had a friend like you, and it has made all the difference.

Peace and love—

P.S. It's 2.38:32

(index card)
Mr. Robert Kaplow

I remember hearing about Mr. Kaplow almost everyday my freshman year. "Mr. Kaplow very interesting...Mr. Kaplow told me..." I would answer, "Cool, Hillary, nobody cares."

I remember Hillary writing her college essays in her room at one A.M. I would ask her to read them. She said no every time. My parents asked her if they could read them. She said no. The only person who was allowed to read them was Mr. Kaplow. At the time, I couldn't imagine not letting your own family read something but letting some random teacher at school read them. What was so great about him anyways? He seemed like any other teacher: a little weird for wearing suspenders but nothing special.

I also remember reading the index cards Hillary got. Some of them were very honest and accurate; others were pointless, borderline offensive, putting Hillary in stoner stereotypes she didn't belong in. They were all interesting though. I enjoyed reading about Hillary from points of view that weren't the mischievous little sister that I was. I remember thinking that project was so much more interesting than the Ender's Game board game I had just finished for my English class.

Hillary also always wrote in her senior journal. She had always kept journals (which I always read) but she hid this one very well so I didn't have a chance to. She told me she wrote about everything. She even wrote about me throwing a party and the vomiting in the car. I couldn't believe she wrote about that for school. A teacher would be reading about alcohol?! I wanted that teacher. Then Hillary went on her casual date. I think she went on two actually. One of them was with Chris Thomson, one of the hottest senior guys who my friends and I drooled over. That is when I decided I wanted Mr. Kaplow as my teacher. By junior year, it was no secret Mr. Kaplow was the teacher you wanted for senior year. Luckily I got him. I was a little nervous. It was the second time I would have the same teacher as Hillary. The first time, I ended up dropping the class after two months. It brought back my fear of being compared to Hillary. I knew I wasn't even close to how good of a writer she was. Also, I'm sure Mr. Kaplow had read pages of mean, embarrassing and stupid things I had done freshman year.

I'm not sure how many of those stories Mr. Kaplow remembers or how he has compared me to Hillary, but I am really happy I took this class. Even if I haven't gone on a casual date with someone as hot as Chris Thomson.

Annika Hansen

(index card)
Robert Kaplow

I remember I was in the library my sophomore year with Mr. O'Neill for English, and you approached me and asked me my name, because you said you liked how I dressed. Ever since then, you've always greeted me when you've seen me in the halls—always, "Hello, Hillary," and a smile. And until senior year I hoped you'd be my English teacher.

English has always been my favorite class, but until now, it's been only that—a favorite class. Now, it's not only my favorite class, it's also the reason I want to get up in the morning and come to school.

On the first day of class you briefly described what we'd be doing this year, and it sounded like everything I ever wanted to do ever. And it's lived up to my expectations, and even surpassed them.

I hadn't expected to ever have this kind of relationship with a teacher—I write about everything in my life in my journal and you read it, and I feel comfortable coming in to see you during my unassigned almost every day. In fact, those days I don't come in always feel so much less fulfilling to me, somehow.

I can talk to you about things I can't talk to any of my classmates about, and even if I did try to talk to them we wouldn't be having the kinds of thoughtful discussions that you and I do. There are things you've said to me that I remember, will remember for a long time, and think about almost every day. You told me not to stress out so much about Brown, because that's giving the school more importance, making it out to be more than it is, and it's also making me out to be more than I am. I've been able to calm down about college since then.

You've always given me thoughtful and constructive responses on my writing, and it meant a lot to me when you took the time to actually drive down Grove Terrace because I'd written about it in my essay. You said, "The world is neutral, even empty, and we just imprint all this on it." The fact that you can draw such universal meanings from the things I write about always amazes me. I'm so close to these things that it's hard for me to step back and see that there's meaning there.

We spoke once or twice about what it is to be someone who writes, how a writer always has a part of himself or herself separate, observing—how it means that he or she can never completely be invested in a moment. That was something I'd felt my whole life, but never realized there was any kind of significance to that. I always thought I was just weird somehow. And it was meaningful to me that you consider me a writer.

There's a way you have of fanning your fingers out over a page of my poetry when we're discussing it that shows me how intently you've read it, paid attention to it.

I've realized through my conversations with you that there is so much I don't know, but it's exciting and I want to keep expanding the universe of things I don't know.

I've also realized that there is so much I don't know about you. You know me better than most other people, through our conversations, through reading my essays and my poetry, through reading my journal. I'm a little ashamed that I haven't really asked.

I wonder what you were like when you were my age. I think we'd have been close. I wish I'd have known you then.

I'll always remember the conversations I've had with you—all the time I've spent in your class and with you during unassigned. My whole life, I'll be telling people about the best teacher I've ever had, and honestly, at this point, you seem to me more of a friend than a teacher. Who gives me grades.

I hope we'll keep in touch even after I leave Summit. I think we will.

Hillary Hansen

June 3rd 2013
Dear Mr. Kaplow,

Maybe you weren't expecting this, but you were the first person I wanted to write my letter to. I've enjoyed your class more than any other and I've probably learned more in one year than I have in my whole life. I didn't love my English teacher last year (who will remain unnamed,) and this was pretty upsetting to me because I've loved to read and write ever since I learned how. Coming into your class, I felt as if I had become a worse writer after having had "taken a year off" in my junior year class. I was nervous because I felt like my writing would never reach its full potential again. I was wrong because after a year of your class I feel like not only has my writing never been stronger, but also I've become a much more pensive thinker. Everything has more meaning to me now, for better or for worse, whether it's a book or someone's actions or a piece of art. I think it's because in your class you're always trying to get us to dig beneath the surface, and even beyond that. I can't stand when people don't pay attention in your class because it's such a valuable class to me. I think that the people who don't value your class are just ignorant, and it's caused me to reevaluate my friendships with these people. In a way, your class has made me feel like a different person (Catie 2.0?) Your class has made it clear to me that I want to be a writer one day. It's what I love to do, and I feel like it comes naturally to me. I ended up choosing a college that focuses on writing, and I'm going to be an English major. I'll be enrolling at Trinity College; in my interview they said to me, "Don't come here if you don't like to write." I thought you might find that funny. I'm nervous that in college I won't find a teacher who I'll identify so well with as I did with you. I'll miss how I knew I would laugh every day in your class, and you don't even laugh at your own jokes! I'll miss having a class to look forward to every day, like there would be one part of the day that I knew I would truly enjoy. I'll miss (and I'm envious of) your patience and the way you put up with people. Seriously, I don't know how you deal with people talking while you're trying to teach, but I have a lot of respect for the way you put up with it. You're one of the most open-minded, talented, and eclectic teachers I've ever had. Thanks for that, it makes you pretty cool. I'll miss getting a paper back in your class because I love reading the insightful comments. I hope we can stay in touch over the years; thanks for being such a life changing teacher, Mr. Kaplow.

Catie Currie

P.S. My life goal is now to read everything written by Vladimir Nabokov. I'm starting this summer.

Mr. Kaplow—

The two classes I've taken with you have been major highlights to my entire high school experience. Your sense of humor and desire to think outside the box are qualities rarely found n teachers. However, it's teachers like you who leave a lasting impact. I will never forget some of the moments in my sophomore Film Studies or senior English class. Thank you for creating such a memorable and fun year! I'll really miss this next year at school.

Lauren Britt

Mr. Kaplow,

I honestly don't even know where to begin with this note, but one of my biggest regrets in high school is not signing up for one of your classes earlier. I kick myself about it all the time. Your classroom has such a welcoming comfortable air to it, and that and the class itself just made me happy everyday at 8th period. Creative Writing is the genuinely the best class I was enrolled in my four years at Summit High School. I learned loads more than I could ever write on this card. So I guess all I can say is thank you. Have a terrific summer.

Rosemary Walter

Dear Mr. Kaplow,

You are one of the few teachers at Summit High School that I am going to remember long after I've graduated. The first time I had you as a teacher was sophomore year Film Studies. There were upperclassmen in the class and I was dreading going to it. Unlike my expectations, Film Studies quickly became my favorite class in the entire school. I felt extremely comfortable in your classroom and have never had as good of a time in any other class. That comfort carried on through my senior AP English class with you. I have written things in my senior journal that I would not let any other teacher see. I am going to miss the trust and comfort that you have provided for me over the course of the years. When my schedule came in the mail, the summer going into senior year, the first thing I checked was my English teacher. I was ecstatic. You have such a unique teaching style and personality that I look forward to going to your class everyday. I am going to miss the Fez of Brilliance and all of the random things around your classroom, including the disco ball. It was such a pleasure having you as a teacher and I envy the younger classmen that have the privilege of spending time with you. Thank you for an amazing high school experience.

Anna Johnson

Mr. Kaplow—

You're one of a rare and dying breed—the teacher who actually cares, for whom his subject is more than just a salary. It really makes the difference for me. Your utter shamelessness, philosophical ramblings, and knitted cardigans made Creative Writing the class I most looked forward to, and I think I learned some important stuff beyond just how to format a treatment or write the opening to a movie script. I really enjoyed the time I spent as your student, and I feel lucky, because the first time I saw you, I thought, "Sofia, you have to become friends with that guy before you graduate." I'm so glad I got the chance to do just that.

I hope you like this book! [The Elegance of the Hedgehog] I enjoyed it a lot, so hopefully it'll amuse you as well.

Thanks for everything,
Sofia Vizitiu

P.S. I'm keeping my notecard and my Sherlock pin forever.

May 6, 2013
Mr. Kaplow,

I don't really know how to put into words how thankful I am to have had you as a teacher, but I just wanted you to know I appreciate everything you've done for me. (Like accepting my transfer into your AP English class.) Not only are you an amazing teacher, but as a person as well. You see something in your students most people miss, treating them with respect. The discussions in your class are always thought-provoking, your anecdotes humorous but fascinating. Your kindness has touched me and those around you. As a person (and as an aspiring writer), I have grown so much this year because of your influence. Without your encouragement, I wouldn't be pursuing a career as a writer, and I wouldn't have continued writing after the incident last year and the complete loss of confidence in myself.... Thank you for caring, if only just a little, during such a dark time in my life.

The original wearer of the fez of brilliance (along with her flamboyant peacock stockings),
Jenny Le

Mr. Kaplow,

I'm not sure if you even remember me, but my name is Katie Stuke and I was in your senior English class four years ago. I am currently a junior at Georgetown and I'm taking a class called Courage and Moral Leadership. Today we learned that the best leaders have a keen understanding of themselves and the best way to gain self-awareness is through journaling.

As I sat reflecting on my life, opinions, and self, in my journal tonight, I couldn't help but think of your senior journal assignment. I have had countless teachers and even more assignments in my life, but far and away your class has had the most lasting impact on me. I genuinely appreciated your thoughtful comments, thought-provoking lessons, and obvious passion for teaching. It will be a great loss to SHS when you retire.

Warmest Regards,

Mr. Kaplow

I would hope this email finds you well. I know that you have had many students over your career but I would hope you would remember me from last year's AP English class. I know this email is coming out of the blue, but I think you'll find it interesting nonetheless.

If you recall you told us a story about a woman whom you cultivated a friendship with (I believe through that Victorian house in Westfield) who one day said that she believed you and her were in the same karass. Karass—a word from the book Cat's Cradle, which I never read (and you never let me forget that), is an interesting concept that I hadn't given much thought until I went to New Orleans with my fraternity for formal this past weekend.

At one of the restaurants where we went to dinner I struck up a conversation with one of the servers that turned out to be one of the most enjoyable interactions of my life. While talking to him I kept feeling as though I was back in Summit High School shooting the sh*t with you in class about musicals, Pulp Fiction, space operas, being a lazy senior, and the human condition in general.

Anyway the encounter took a turn for the profound when I mentioned the concept of karass and he knew what it was right away. As we talked about the concept I mentioned how I felt as though he would belong in the same karass as my high school English teacher. The conversation went on I learned that not only did this man have a carbon copy of your personality, but that Me And Orson Welles was one of his favorite books and he was currently reading Alex Icicle.

During the conversation at no point did it occur to me to get this man's contact information or even ask his name, and while that did bug me for a bit after I had left his presence, I began to think about how that small slip of my mind might have just been part of the karass concept itself, in that however interconnected members of the same karass might be; the universe—not the individual—will decide when and if they meet.

The Book of Bokonon defines karass as "a group of people linked in a cosmically significant manner, even when superficial links are not evident." (Still haven't read the book, got that off Wikipedia.) Since Karass is in no way shape or form a scientifically agreed upon phenomena, or even a widely known concept I decided not to take it at face value and try and build an interpretation more relevant to my own life.

What I got was this: Prometheus' gift has served Man well. The light of its flame is ever-reaching; its heat ever-giving. The fire of Man's reason burns deep in his breast, it lifts him above the beasts, carries him past his limits, and brings to him what was before unattainable, but at a price. With reason comes curiosity, and in the heart of Man curiosity roars louder than any hunger. To him, no mystery is as attractive as the mystery of his own purpose, and in the unending quest to quell the tide of uncertainties he has no allies but his fellow Man. In this way, Man unknowingly crafts his own destiny; learning about himself by learning about others—the road is long and the hardships many, but the journey is made by those along the way.

Anyway I know that was kind of a rant but I just felt as though I had to share that experience with you after it had such a profound effect on me, seeing as you were the one who exposed me to the idea.

All the best,
Will Beckett

Mr. Kaplow

I wanted to write something really deep and meaningful, the kind of quote you would end a movie with, but because I lack the lucidity and brevity to do that I will just say thank you. Thank you for having such a strange and beautiful class. Everyday I looked forward to going to sixth period English because I knew anything was possible. I could have my morals questioned, heart-strings pulled, curiosity piqued or sensibilities offended. All of these experiences happened because of you. Your class was something I have never had before in high school; it was unexpected. I never expected to think about myself or my choices. I never expected to learn more about myself and other people. These were things that you caused to happen. Your irreverence for traditional thought pushed everyone to question their long-held beliefs.

Your class was a crazy philosophical loop but it was also a lot of fun. Thanks for all the adventures into the soul and silly moments.

Allyn Engle

Mr. Kaplow,

You know everything I felt, did, and went through this year. You hold all my secrets; that's crazy to think about. But you know what? It doesn't faze me. I trust you in some weird Zen way. You know, I really wanted to write you a farewell letter, but I didn't want you to grade it. Didn't want any bias, eh? Mr. Kaplow, I have so many things thanks to your class. I have 2 in-depth journals that document my whole senior year. I don't think I would have these without you making it an assignment. I also have great memories from your class. The music videos, the index cards, A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, and so much more. However, my favorite moment in your room is the Pontito story. You have a famous and beautiful painting! I am super jealous! And you spoke to the artist and have him on cassette! What? Point is, Mr. Kaplow, thank you for a kickass senior year. You have shaped me into a better writer thanks to your fun/creative assignments. Plus, by having me keep a journal, you had a hand in helping me keep my sanity. You rock and I'm gonna miss you.

Cici Flanagan

Dear Mr. Kaplow,

I decided to write to you because I felt it was appropriate to do as we end our senior AP English class. First of all, I wanted to thank you for a memorable English class. It will be forever remembered. I can honestly say that there was never a dull moment in all of our days. You were a fantastic teacher who knew how to be serious when needed but also knew how to lighten the mood. You are a teacher who I truly think has the best intention for every single one of your students. It was a pleasure coming to class everyday and not knowing what will be doing. I enjoyed doing all of the various projects we did because they were very different than any other project I have done in an English class. It is unlike any old boring, curriculum-heavy class. Most teachers do the normal thing with book reports and essays. I like the way you put a twist on things and make people think in another way. Thank you for an unforgettable English class.

Matt Maier

Dear Mr. Kaplow,

Your class was by far the best English class I have ever taken. I appreciated the calm atmosphere and the freedom that I felt, especially with my writing. I think it helped me to be a better writer. In prior years teachers had always given out complex rubrics for projects or were particular as to where a specific sentence needed to be in an introduction paragraph. You, however, did not give us those requirements and constraints and instead gave us freedom with our writing. I feel that this helped my writing.

In past years I often felt as if I did not know how to write. I always felt bound by the constraints set out by the teachers; I would, more often than not, find myself in front of a blank computer screen unsure of what or even how to write. Finally this year I felt as if I was able to write much more openly and with greater confidence. This made me want to write.

Your class was always fun and entertaining—whether you were taking a bunch of pills during a BRAVE NEW WORLD discussion or showing us an interesting film.

The projects you assigned were always different and fun to do, and I always found myself excited to start them—even the index card project that at first I did not like, but I ended up loving it.

One of the most helpful tips you taught me was not to use "very" in my writing—which I had done very much (see what I did there?) Thank you for a great year.

Gretchen Walsh

Dear Mr. Kaplow.

This is a first-edition copy of the first book I read in your Creative Writing I class. "Franny and Zooey" and its author have become personal favorites and have inspired several of my own stories. So much of what you have taught me in the past three years has gone into my work, and I want to thank you for your honest opinions and for always reading what I bring you; especially last year when I wasn't even taking a class with you anymore. I have found so much inspiration and improved so much because of you. The best I've ever done has come directly from each semester of Salinger, "The Avengers," "Before Sunrise," and, well, everything else. I look back at pieces I wrote a few years ago and can't help thinking about what I would do differently or which words I would use in place of the existing ones. That, in and of itself, makes me smile to think about. I hope I never reach a point when I look back and think I couldn't do better.

What I still find myself stumbling on is that first question you asked in English this year, "Why do you need art?" It's certainly a good question; art doesn't make any sense if you really think about it. A canvas smeared over with a mixture of turpentine, oil, and pigment can captivate a person for hours. Ink pressed into pulverized wood can bring a man to tears. It's fascinating! I believe the only logical explanation is that without art, we are lonely. Not lonely in the way we are for other people, but for a very different kind of connection that comes from spending a day as the child of different parents, the war hero, the broken-hearted traveler, the adolescent actor. It's not really an explanation so much as an excuse for making art. I suppose, as far as the mystery goes, justifying art's creation is as close as we can get to why we need it. I think that's enough.

Anyway, thank you for being my mentor and the best teacher I've ever had. As long as you are working at Summit High School, I will have a reason to come visit.

Zoë Patrick

(Index Card)
Robert Kaplow

Have you ever received one of these "cards" from a parent?

The packet of cards my daughter shared with me written about her by her classmates was spectacular. It didn't matter if some cards were real and others were fiction. The words were true and authentic and beautiful. I cried reading every single one. My daughter's known most of the fellow authors since kindergarten and to have a look back through other people's eyes opened my own.

To a parent, the content with all the memories was like a door closing on her childhood. But the details were mature and passionately written; it was like a door into her future. Wouldn't the world be a better place if everyone wrote a card about everyone they knew?

Your project reached far and wide in our family and into my heart. So, I just couldn't help myself. I had something to say and I couldn't think of a better way to say it.

"Anonymous Parent"

June 2013
Dear Mr. Kaplow

There's a phrase that haunts me in a good way and that is, "You're only as happy as your saddest child." Through the years, for better or for worse, I have used this phrase as a barometer to gauge how my kids are doing. When it came to AP English, my daughter Catie Currie was my happiest child.

I spent this past school year hearing all about the books, the assignments and the class discussions. Catie spoke of your class with a twinkle in her eye and she poured passion into every assignment. She loved to learn in your English class and I felt it every single day. You gave her a gift and I know without a doubt she will use that gift wisely as she goes to college and beyond. You have made a difference in her life and I just wanted you to know that.

Thanks you (from the bottom of my heart)
Amy Currie

June 2013
Dear Mr. Kaplow,

Thank you for a wonderful year. I can honestly say that you are my favorite teacher of all my four years of high school. I remember hearing all kinds of great things about you my freshman, sophomore, and junior years. Every time you'd pass me in the hallway, everything that everyone's told me about you would go through my mind. I never met you before, yet I knew a lot about you, and you had no idea. Is that creepy? Probably.

Although I may be biased towards your love of film, that's not the only reason you have become my favorite teacher. As a teacher, you treat us like adults. That's a rare quality in high school teachers these days, believe it or not. When I say you're very understanding to your students, I actually mean you understand what we go through. You said it best one day when you told us reading our journals made you realize how little importance and little time of life a 45 minute class takes up. Other teachers think that their class is the only class we take and give us hours of useless work.

I hope you know that the only reason I was able to write with such honesty in my senior journal was because you were reading it. If it were Mr. __ or Mr. __ reading, everything would be so watered down that it would alter the true story. But for some reason, I feel as comfortable with you reading my life stories as I would any friend. I guess that's why I care so much that you'd judge me. I won't name any names, but there are teachers out there who I don't care for and therefore don't care what they think of me. The thought of you being disappointed in me, however, would matter to me.

I want to lastly thank you for all of the support and encouragement you've given me towards my filmmaking. No teacher has ever understood what this passion really means to me. I love showing you my films because you always react the right way to them and I get a feeling that you really believe I could go far. I can't get that feeling of reassurance anywhere else. So thank you, Mr. Kaplow, for constantly making me believe in myself...

Allan Guerrero

Dear Mr. Kaplow:

I was a student in one of your tenth-grade English classes during the 1990-91 school year. A friend recently forwarded me the news of your retirement. I understand that the Board of Education has regretfully accepted it, and people have started to share their memories of your 34 years in Summit. In that spirit, I've chosen to disclose how your class fared in my private, 2005 ranking of every academic course I took from seventh grade through law school.

I weighed how each class "stayed with me" over the years, factoring in (a) the subject matter and (b) the presentation skills of the instructor. It's not a perfect science, and I certainly priced-in my own biases. High school physics, for instance, ranked last at number 110. "Trees and Shrubs of North Carolina," an outdoor seminar from the fall of 1996, landed towards the median. I had difficulty comparing subjects like "Home Economics" and "Eastern Europe in Transition."

At any rate, I am pleased to inform you that "Tenth Grade English—Honors" tied with one other course for my top ranking of all time. When I reconnect with SHS folks, "Mr. Kaplow" almost always comes up. "Sonnet 29," "The Word is Not the Thing," your Casual Date program: it all worked. My mother notifies me every time you appear in the national press. And whenever my preferred candidate loses an election, I meditate on the headline from the New York Inquirer: "Fraud at Polls!"

Congratulations on wrapping up your Hilltopper career. Hope it was fun. Best of luck in the days ahead.

Ben Von Klemperer ('93)

I just came across the article saying you were retiring and I decided to reach out.

I had you for senior English in 1985-1986. You also taught with my father, Peter Lubrecht. I am not sure if you remember me or not, but I want you to know I remember you.

You were the teacher who introduced me to Aldous Huxley, and Kurt Vonnegut. You made me read 1984 and a Star Trek script by Harlan Ellison. You made me memorize the first 12 lines of the Canterbury Tales in Middle English. It is now more than 25 years later and I still remember this...and can still recite those 12 lines :)

In high school, I looked forward to your class. I may not have been the best student, but I think you should know that you reached me.

You were one of my most memorable high school teachers. Thank you so much.

Good Luck with your retirement.
—Chris Lubrecht

P.S. "Brave New World" and "Brave New World Revisited" are on my bookshelf, right next to my copy of "Welcome to the Monkey House". :)

Dear Mr. Kaplow:

You were our late son, Joshua Andrew Plaut's favorite teacher throughout his academic career, and that included four years at Yale as an English major and three years at Columbia Law School. You probably heard that he died in a tragic, storm-related accident occurring on October 29, 2011. We shall never heal from that horrible loss, but we are filled with warm good spirits when we think of you and his time with you at Summit High School. He often spoke later on of how much he enjoyed being in your classes and how innovative and exciting you made each and every one of them.

We treasure the letter he sent you a few years ago, beginning with "You may not remember me, Mr. Kaplow, but...." And you answered, "Of course I remember you, Josh." We have saved this exchange among our treasured mementoes of a life lived well but too short.

My husband Jon and I wish you all the best in your retirement and we know you will make it a creative and fulfilling one.

All the best,
Anne and Jon Plaut

Dear Mr. Kaplow:

In catching up on the local news during this holiday season, I saw that you are retiring from teaching at Summit High School. I just wanted to wish you all the best in your future endeavors. My thanks are long, long overdue. Please forgive me. I was a sophomore in 1983 when I first attended your class. I still remember when you played a new album by Paul McCartney, Pieces of Eight, if I remember correctly, and asked us to review it. You promptly mailed those reviews to his publisher and made our entire class wonder if we should have been so forthright in our comments! You must have known about Twitter all those years ago.

And believe it or not, much like a reflex, when I'm in a bind I've been reciting the first verse of Shakespeare's Sonnet 29 for the last 26 years or so years. That was the first assignment you gave our class once upon a time.

I've frequently told family friends and colleagues that the two best teachers I ever had through high school, college and law school were you and Miss Boyle. Two completely different teachers but both dedicated to inspiring and pushing their students to new levels of appreciation of the English language.

I hope this email makes it through your publisher/contact-person, if only to say a heartfelt "Thank you".

Thank you and best wishes for your future plans!
Ross Smith

...I continue to write.
...I care about the words I choose.
...I care about the songs I hear.
...I care about the songs I sing.
...I care about the books I read.
...I care about the films I watch.
...I care about the films I make.
...I use the English language as a tool to affect peoples lives for the better, like you did for me during my '04-'08 years.

Mr. Kaplow, you have inspired me more than you know and it is bittersweet to hear that you are retiring from your regal tenure at SHS. I think of the future generations of students that will be missing out on your anecdotes and prolific reading list provided for your classes. Many of the films you screened and literature you assigned left an indelible mark on my mind, re-affirming my choice to be a songwriter, a filmmaker, and an overall lover of the arts. You were the one teacher at school who knighted those who entered your doorways with good taste, like a medal to wear at every cocktail party those would attend in the future. I can't tell you how many times your curriculum has come in handy during late night intellectual conversations or the occasional passing by reference. I will always be grateful for your lectures and your lessons and hope that you continue to write with the same passion as you taught.

Just wanted to drop you a line and let you know your work has been appreciated more than you can know.

—Willie Nedrow

P.S. Here's my thesis project in case you want to take a listen, I did everything you hear myself (written, arranged, performed, mixed, & mastered) Enjoy!