A grateful group of Saugatuck Elementary School parents writes:
We are incredibly lucky to have the best teachers here in Westport. Our schools are filled with smart, creative educators who not only teach, but inspire our kids every day.
It would be hard to stand out in a crowd of teachers that already lives so far above the standard. Yet when Peter von Euler announced his retirement this spring, it became clear that he has done just that. Reactions were universal: dismay from parents who still have kids at Saugatuck El, and gratitude from the students (and their parents) who were already taught by him.
Mr. von Euler has taught in Westport for 36 years. He began with 4th grade at Long Lots and Kings Highway Elementary Schools, before settling into his 5th grade classroom at Saugatuck in 2002.
He has remained in that classroom, aptly nicknamed the FIvE HIvE (creative punctuation of his initials intended), ever since.
When he announced his retirement, SES parents and teachers sent out a call to former students and colleagues of Mr. von Euler’s, asking them to submit notes to be compiled as a retirement gift.
The letters came pouring in — over 100 pages’ worth. Current students, former students now in middle and high school, and grown adults all responded to the call. The themes were universal: Peter von Euler was creative, funny and obviously, memorable. He pushed kids to be their best, yet had a way of making every student feel seen and understood.
One student from his 5th grade class of 2017 said:
You understand that every student learns differently but deserves a full chance just the same. You nurtured everyone’s special abilities and gave us the appropriate pushes to get out of our comfort zones. Years after I left your class I wondered if you had had super powers.
Many of his former students recalled his “read alouds,” the homemade Valentine’s mailboxes his students make every year, and the custom awards his students create for one another at the end of year — a project that encourages his students to see the best in each other.
When the pandemic struck, like all teachers, Mr. von Euler was forced to pivot. But he did so with calm and creativity. On the first day of remote learning last spring, he sent his students an email that included great advice.
“First, take care of yourself. Do all of the things that keep you healthy and happy. Second, take care of your mind. Read…A LOT. Think about what you’re reading and write it down somewhere. Send me a letter. I promise I’ll write back. Third, look for ways to be constructive and positive. Start a project that you’ve wanted to start. Build something. Draw something.
Fourth, try really hard to avoid doing things that just kill time. I think there are ways to make this time have some value. Let’s see if the FIvE HIvE can still do great things, even when we’re away from the hive. -Mr. vE
One of his “Pandemic Class” parents submitted this to the memory book:
We had both the privilege and fear of being vulnerable with you about our struggles in returning to “normal,” just as you were vulnerable with us on Day One of a year where we knew we were going to need each other in new and unusual ways. You set the tone for a year of doing our best as humans, not just students, parents and teachers.
Perhaps one of the most “fun facts” about Peter von Euler’s classroom years is that despite it being an elementary school classroom, it served as the birthplace for a marriage! Vibeke Borgia wrote:
It’s hard to believe it’s been 35 years since I was in your 4th grade class. What might be even harder to believe is that 2 little 10-year-olds in your class fell in love, got married, moved 6 times, endured several career changes, traveled the world, had four amazing children, and will celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary this September. I’m not sure if the sparks flew in 4th grade, but I sure am glad you were our teacher.
Peter von Euler’s retirement is a true loss for Westport schools and future students. But it’s a gain to his family — wife Nancy, daughter Sarah and dog Farley — with whom he now intends to spend more time.
In 1993, Mr. von Euler was interviewed for a New York Times “Back to School” article. The columnist wrote, “Mr. von Euler said he wanted to be a good teacher, like those special few he had as a young person or those he sees around him each day.”
(Do you know an Unsung Hero? Email nominations to firstname.lastname@example.org)