Open letter to former students

UPDATE, October 30th: great news! Thank you, thank you, thank you.


I will be leaving China this coming summer and moving on to a new job beginning in August 2015. Under Chinese law, I cannot be issued a work visa if I would turn 65 during the upcoming year. Since I will celebrate my 63rd birthday in June, I need to find a country and a school that will hire me now and keep me on past my 65th birthday, as I have no intention of retiring.

In the past when I have searched for a new job, I have not asked students or former students for endorsements or letters of reference. This time, however, my age will make my search perhaps more difficult, as many countries and schools have age limits when it comes to hiring and issuing work visas. So if you have been a student of mine and you feel so inclined, please leave a comment here about my teaching, or what you remember of it. Please mention when and where you were my student.


Mr. MacKnight

17 thoughts on “Open letter to former students”

  1. Mr MacKnight,

    I’m really sorry to hear about your visa situation, but it’s good to know that you will continue teaching. I wish you all the best for the future, and hope this recommendation helps. Please let me know if you would like me to modify anything, and keep in touch!

    Mr MacKnight was my teacher while I studied IB English A1 at Suzhou Singapore International School, and his classes remain to this day some of my fondest memories from my years at the school. His enthusiasm for literature of all manners was infectious, and motivated our class to push on through the gruelling IB syllabus. The curriculum taught by Mr MacKnight was remarkably varied, allowing us to gain an understanding of a number of different writing styles, such as stream-of-consciousness, epic poetry and dramatic literature; this variety empowered me to develop a completely new understanding of literature both classical and contemporary which I never would have experienced on my own.

    One of my favourite aspects of Mr MacKnight’s classes was his unwillingness to shy away from difficult topics. In his classes, we were not simply discussing the texts assigned to us but forming for ourselves opinions regarding the themes covered in these texts. Even when these themes included issues of discrimination or sexuality, we were encouraged to discuss them soberly like adults.

    I firmly believe that had I not been afforded the opportunity to have Mr MacKnight as an instructor, I would not in a million years have gained the appreciation I now have for literature in all of its forms. I believe that any member of my cohort fortuitous enough to be placed in Mr MacKnight’s class would agree that we did not only learn to look at literature in a critical fashion; we also developed our capacity to form our own opinions and thus grow as individuals.

    Luke Ness
    (+86) 18621945202

  2. To whom it may concern.

    My name is Rami Bathish; I am a former student of Eric MacKnight.

    I was in Eric’s English class during the academic years 1990-1991 and 1991-1992 at the Vienna International School (VIS), during which I was completing my International Baccalaureate (I.B.).

    A few years ago, I found Eric on Facebook. I hadn’t seen, or heard from, him since I graduated from VIS in 1992. Here is what I wrote to him at the time:

    “Dear Eric,

    You may or may not remember me; I am one of your many students at VIS (in fact, you were my English teacher during my last two years at IB level, 90-92).

    I am really just writing to say thanks! You had a great influence on my career (especially writing).

    My best regards, and I hope that life has been treating you well, and vice versa.


    Eric just had a way about him! He made English literature clear and understandable to someone like me, whose native language is not English. He managed to attract my attention and focus to the various themes we covered throughout the two-year programme; I was a mediocre student and only interested in drumming and football at the time, but in Eric’s class I would turn into an English literature nerd! From Henry David Thoreau to Tennessee Williams, and from the Bill of Rights to the lyrics of the Blues, it was all made “accessible” by Mr. MacKnight.

    Above all, Eric taught me (and others) the techniques of writing. This has been the single most valuable asset to my career since I got out of university in 1997. Since then, I have worked as a human rights advocate, a media consultant at Governmental level, a policy adviser, and (for the past 6 years) as a Project Manager for a leading international organisation. Throughout these experiences, I mostly left my mark in all tasks and activities involving writing: press articles, reports, project proposals, speeches; I still catch myself mentally referring to one of Eric’s many tips: “this needs to be in the active voice, not passive”!


  3. Dear Mr McKnight

    this is indeed an unfortunate situation, it is the same case in dubai, which prevents our children from having amazing teachers as yourself.

    I was a pupil of Eric McKnights in casablanca in the 1980s. I remember 3 teachers/professors from my 20+ years of education, and the mere fact that he is one of them is a testament to the phenomenal job he has done as a teacher and as a human. I have amazing memories of my 3 years with Mr McKnight, and even recall fondly his spelling bees! was it 50 words a day for a whole year? his commitment to our extra curricular wellbeing was also commendable, and brings back just as many memories

    any institution would be lucky to have him

    best regards

  4. I am not a former student of Eric MacKnight’s. However, I did go to high school with him in the 60s. Even then, Eric’s thirst for knowledge was unquenchable. This man has spent his entire life learning and teaching literature. I don’t known a single person who even comes close to his encyclopedic knowledge or love of the written word. He would make an outstanding addition to any education staff.

  5. I was a student of Mr. MacKnight’s in both my 7th and 9th grade core English classes at Suzhou Singapore International School (07-08, 09-10 respectively).

    Mr. MacKnight taught his classes in a way that I had never, and still haven’t since, seen before. He drives his students to become superior, more well-equipped writers, fans of literature in its entirety, and, above all, better life-long learners. I truly don’t know how he managed to do this so efficiently but, every single day Mr. MacKnight would fit “Make them better people” into the agenda. He never backed down from a challenge, question, or idea, and would urge all to approach it with the same level of enthusiasm and ferocity.

    Without his teachings and encouragement I probably wouldn’t be the writer I am today. It’s something that I always do enthusiastically and has been commended by my teachers and professors ever since. I owe this to him, along with my love for literature. My love for poetry sprouted in his class (and if you were to have known me in 9th grade this would be quite the shock). He gave reading a book meaning to a bunch of freshman who knew no better. His insight and absolute love for teaching made him able to give an exciting answer every time a classmate would ask “When am I ever going to use this in life? How is this relevant to me?” It kept us invested in his class.

    During my 9th grade year, Mr. MacKnight would always target me with these thought-provoking questions that related to our reading/selected topic. At first I assumed he was simply singling me out for talking to my friends in class; however, after multiple questions had been fired back and forth, I quickly realized that was the farthest thing from what he was doing. I caught myself loving the conversation I was having and he knew this all too well. His constant push to question the “given” enabled me and my classmates to become more comfortable in both forming and expressing our own unique opinions. This carries over to all aspects of life and has certainly helped with mine.

    I never had Mr. MacKnight as an instructor in any higher level courses, but that really makes no difference. He treated everyone as adults, as equals, and always tried to have you better yourself. He is one of my favorite teachers I will ever have and I owe much of my academic, and personal, success to what he has taught me.

    I hope this recommendation helps, Mr. MacKnight. Good luck in all of your future endeavors. I am most certain your infuriatingly unanswerable, “how does that make you feel?”-esque questions do not stop here. Please keep in touch via email or facebook!

  6. Mr. MacKnight was my teacher for IB English literature between 2007-2009. I would recommend him as a teacher for any school – the previous comments indicate exactly how Mr. MacKnight impacts his students more eloquently than I ever could. However, I can confirm that every single one of them is on the money. Mr. MacKnight is a fantastic teacher because he teaches his subject matter whilst also imparting important life lessons that stay relevant long after academics. I would consider any student lucky to have Mr. MacKnight as a teacher.

  7. Mr. MacKnight was my IB English teacher during my junior year of high school (2010-2011) at the Suzhou Singapore International School in Suzhou, China. Since then I have not had an English teacher that was as dedicated to teaching as he has. I remember wishing I had been in his IB ToK (Theory of Knowledge) class because of all the great things that I had heard from my fellow students. He is the kind of teacher that never gives up on his students and is truly dedicated to teaching. He is always willing to help out a student in need and goes the extra mile in the classroom.

    He gives his students the tools to become strong writers and to not shy away from challenging assignments. Without his help I doubt I would have passed the difficult class that the IB English A1 course is. He taught me how to write convincing, well thought out essays and I still use the tips he gave me to this very day. I remember walking into his class on the first day of school not being confident in writing. However, after the year went by I saw that my writing improved with his guidelines, feedback, and aid.

    Not only did he help me with writing, but he also introduced me to a world of literature I thought I would never enjoy. He taught the class how to appreciate Tess of the D’ubervilles, The Odyssey, and Antigone. I still re-read these books to this very day and cannot help but think of our discussions in class. Without his guidance and exceptional insight into the literature, I would not have grasped the content as well as I did.

    His website was also a great tool that enabled students to write reviews on chapters, their thoughts on a certain discussion point, and to see what others had taken from the class. It was the first and only class I had ever taken with such a feature and it enabled everyone to convey thoughts and ideas on the subjects at hand.

    Overall I am truly grateful to have had the year I had with him as my English teacher and really got a lot out of it. I would not have the appreciation or respect for literature that I do now without his lessons. Whenever I buy a new book I use the method he taught me to keep the spine in good condition!

  8. Greetings! I was fortunate enough to have Mr. MacKnight as my high school teacher more than 30 years ago! I was a student of his from 9th thru 12th grade at South Salem High School in Salem, Oregon USA (1979 thru 1983). I feel blessed to have had him as a teacher, and a friend. I echo many of the sentiments expressed in this forum. His teaching and thought-provoking way of presenting material has been invaluable, both personally and professionally. He has, and continues to, make quite an impression on me while encouraging students and people in general to think and voice their own opinions in a thoughtful, well-organized manner. I feel lucky to have had many wonderful teachers during my school years (including university), and certainly Mr. MacKnight tops the list. Any institution would be LUCKY to have him as part of the faculty. Any student would be LUCKY to have him as an instructor. He is an asset to any group with which he chooses to get involved. Your institution would do well to snap up Mr. MacKnight NOW before someone else does. Your students will thank you. –Merideth Webber, Portland, Oregon

  9. I was a student of Eric MacKnight at South Salem High School in Salem, Oregon USA (1979-83). Mr. MacKnight was and remains one of the most influential teachers of my life. His exhaustive knowledge of literature and unwavering dedication to learning as a whole are exemplary of a great master teacher. My experience studying the epics in his AP World Literature class is a highlight from those years, providing me with the insight to understand storytelling and mythology from cultural, historical and spiritual perspectives. Perhaps, however, even more valuable than what he taught is HOW he taught, which was a rare mix of intellectual authority and egalitarianism. I suspect this approach has continued to serve his students well over the years.

    In addition to formal classroom education, I was especially fortunate to have had Mr. MacKnight as the drummer in our student-led rock band “Dirt Cheap” where he opened our ears to some of the seminal artists of popular music from the 60s and 70s. It is exactly this kind of multi-level engagement, the sharing of knowledge of all kinds, that is the mark of a truly gifted teacher.

    Mr. MacKnight is a rarity in my opinion, a born teacher and mentor whose appetite for truth, justice, and humanity are selflessly shared with his students in pursuit of their personal growth and in service of the betterment of our world at large. I offer my highest recommendation of Mr. MacKnight as a teacher and enthusiastically encourage any worthy school to welcome him onto your faculty.

  10. Mr. Macknight taught the English A1 class at the International Secondary School, Eindhoven in the Netherlands and I was fortunate enough to be a part of his MYP class in 2002.

    I distinctly remember Mr. Macknight as a teacher who encouraged his students to continually improve their literary skills and highlighted the importance of consistency and good habits in the sucessful pursuit of goals, whether they are academic, professiona, or personal.

    Whilst analysing literature, he insisted that his students kept a journal where they could summarise and comment on the material they read and develop their own opinions on the content and style. He would personally review our reviews critically, providing feedback that would identify exactly how we could improve our writing and narrative. He was also very creative in his teaching methods as he frequently organised public speaking competitions, dramas and plays for us to participate in so we could express ourselves creatively and apply the skills we developed in class.

    I would also like to point out that despite all the traveling his career has required, Mr. Macknight has remained in contact through his website, his books and is available to provide mentoring to his students worldwide.

    Thank you for the great teaching, Mr Macknight, and I wish you good luck for the visa!

  11. [Sent by email. —etm]

    Mr. MacKnight was one of my Grade 8 homeroom teachers in 2005, Suzhou Singapore International School. Even though, I was never taught by Mr. MacKnight, he had been a rather interesting homeroom teacher; one of the most genuine and humorous homeroom teachers I ever had. Every morning, he would be sitting at his desk with his Macintosh laptop preparing for his classes and the day ahead. He would wait for the time where students make their way to homeroom, settled down and if we had the time for a homeroom discussion, we would always be sitting in a circle for it.

    One of the most meaningful discussions was planning a speech to become a representative of the Student Council. For some reasons, I was never the outspoken student in class, I was most certainly considered as the quiet one. However, until this day, I am still feeling as surprised as I was almost a decade ago: I was chosen to become one of the class’s representatives for the Student Council.

    I remembered during the school’s International Day in 2005; as a representative of the Student Council, I almost single-handedly organized and managed my homeroom’s activity for that day—a sponge-throwing booth. Nevertheless, Mr. MacKnight had understood the situation and kindly wrote a letter of appreciation to me, received in June 2005 shortly after the event.

    Mr. MacKnight is an inspirational teacher; he strives to offer the best for his students as well as to provide them with different point of views from his adventurous life experiences. Even though he was my homeroom teacher only for a year; it was definitely a memorable journey and a great pleasure to be a student of his. He deserves some credit to who I have become today—A Special Education (SPED) Teacher. A teacher is someone who would offer his or her best interests in the success of their students. Mr. MacKnight deserves a round of applause for the accomplishments he had gained over the decades of teaching experiences.


    Clara Koh

  12. My name is Amy Wu and Mr MacKnight was my IB English B (HL) teacher from 2004 to 2006 in Suzhou Singapore International School.

    English was not my first language so I was very glad to have Mr MacKnight as my English Second Language teacher for the last two years of my high school. I had made an enormous improvement in English since becoming his student. He was a great teacher and I learnt a lot from him about the English language as well as the English literature.

    Mr Macknight was also a highly motivated teacher who was very passionate about teaching. He enjoyed teaching and spent his own hours in writing books and blogs to help his students.

    Thank you Mr MacKnight for your wonderful classes, I really enjoyed learning from you! I really hope that you can get your working visa and find a school to teach soon! Good luck!

  13. To whom this may concern:

    Mr. MacKnight was my IB Higher Level English teacher from 2010-2011 at the Suzhou Singapore International School in Suzhou, China. I can honestly say, without a doubt, that Mr. MacKnight is probably one of the best English teachers that I have ever had. In the beginning I remember always sitting in class thinking “why are we always writing blog posts?” However, over time I realised that instead of being spoon-fed, I was taught to think for myself and began to develop a love and interest for each of the characters that we studied in class. I still remember being annoyed over the fact that Mr. MacKnight would never directly answer my questions. He would always find a way to respond by directing me a little to the right direction, but at the same time not completely giving me the answer. Sadly for our class, Mr. MacKnight moved schools before we finished our IB English course. However, I still remember during those late night cram sessions when I desperately needed help and Mr. MacKnight would always promptly reply to my desperate emails even though I was no longer his student. Mr. MacKnight even took the time to see the class outside during his own free time to give us a lesson and to help us with the finals that were looming around the corner. For this, I am truly grateful for his time and effort and I would offer my highest recommendation to any school that is contemplating in giving him a teaching position.

    Kind regards,
    Annie Wan

  14. I was in Mr. MacKnight’s Theory of Knowledge (ToK) class in 2010-2011 in Suzhou Singapore International School. ToK is a core IB class that asked students to think about knowledge; specifically, what they know and how they know it.

    It was a hard class that sought to make us better learners and thinkers, more able to deal with the nuance inherent in our world. It required curiosity, open-mindedness, and introspection of both the students taking the class and the teacher teaching it. Mr. MacKnight committed to giving us the best possible incarnation of this class he could – one that really challenged us to think better.

    Our very first lesson in Mr. MacKnight’s ToK class was dedicated to reading and discussing Plato’s Meno, a difficult text that discussed how virtue was derived. The text, which was a discussion between Socrates and Meno, brought up an idea. It was some form of the famous saying “I know that I know nothing”. It was an idea that I was uncomfortable with, being at the time the sort of overly confident student who thought that he knew everything. It took a while for me to understand what it meant, and to internalize the spirit of humility, discovery and wondering that that saying meant to encourage. But it was in this spirit that Mr. MacKnight conducted his ToK classes with, something which I tried to emulate. It was a fitting start to ToK, because it acted as an intellectual reset button to our previous ways of thinking.

    He was the only teacher I ever had that had us write weekly blog posts reflecting on what was discussed in class. These reflections were published publicly, so the onus was on us to make sure we really wrote what we thought. At the time, it seemed like a chore – yet another piece of homework that we had to do. In fact, the feeling was exacerbated all the more because writing these blog posts was hard. The materials that we encountered in class (which were a combination of essays, articles, videos, and TED talks), often challenged our personal or political beliefs. Having to write responses to these materials often meant having to defend our own beliefs, or, sometimes explain how we had had to reassess those beliefs. The effort of having to do that, and synthesize it into a coherent piece of writing was really difficult. It made us into more careful thinkers and better writers.

    We were also encouraged to comment on each others blog posts, leading to some very interesting and sometimes quite heated online discussions (the weeks in which we discussed faith and religion gave rise to a particularly active period on the blog!). This added dimension of allowing students to criticize one another not only made us more careful with our words, in case we misrepresented what we meant, but also exposed us to opposing points of view. It taught me that, given the right circumstances, any topic, no matter how intellectual or controversial, can be debated in a rational and balanced manner.

    Mr. MacKnight himself was a frequent commenter, often opening up the discussion and nudging us to consider these issues from different angles. I still remember that in my blog post reflection on the Meno, I concluded, rather smugly, that, “there are as many moral codes as there are people in the world”. It sounded nice and flowery, but was actually a rather unhelpful and reductionist way of thinking. Mr. MacKnight chimed in then, asking me to consider the fact that there are certain acts considered taboo across all cultures – murder, for example. This forced me to rethink my original stance and also made me more careful to not make such sweeping generalizations in the future.

    I became a better student thanks to Mr. MacKnight’s ToK lessons. His class blogs and the online conversation that they facilitated pushed me to be a much stronger writer and thinker. He made me appreciate the expansiveness and intricacies of knowledge and gave me the tools and the drive to endlessly seek more knowledge. His enthusiasm towards his students’ and his own learning is infectious and inspires me to this day.

  15. To whom it may concern,

    My name is Elisa Heikkila, I was a student of Mr MacKnight’s at Suzhou Singapore International School from 2005 to 2007. I came to China having never lived ‘abroad’ before, and having never used English as my primary language before. Out of sheer ambition and love for the language, I selected to study English as an A1 subject, meant for native speakers, landing me in Mr MacKnight’s class.

    I had, and still have, not had a teacher so passionate about his subject. Not only was his instruction and elaboration always clear, it was intelligent, inspiring and never patronising. His passion for the subject helped me grow as a person, as a student and as a future professional. But his understanding and compassion also helped those of us that felt a little unsettled in the beginning, helping us grow our new roots in unfamiliar places. No question was left unanswered, and despite otherwise difficult times, his class was the only class where I felt that I could achieve something bigger than I always thought I could.

    I now live in England, where I have been since my time in China, and with the support and encouragement Mr MacKnight provided me during my years in high school, I landed my dream job less than two years after my graduation from University. I believe any student of his, whether in the past, present or future, does or will feel as grateful for his support as I am.

    For those that may at some point read this letter, if you believe your students should receive the best possible education, in life as well as in literature, know that your trust cannot be better placed. I will be more than happy to discuss this further if needed (Mr MacKnight please feel free to pass on my details in this case).

    Yours sincerely,
    Elisa Heikkila

  16. Dear prospective beneficiary,

    I heard of this post through friends that were classmates of mine and that I have remained close to for over 30 years. I have not stayed in touch with Mr. MacKnight as some of them have.

    I know that my friends who have posted here and I suspect a large majority of the others here were great students who excelled in language and literature. I did not. I was a mediocre student who struggled to keep up and was not gifted in the subject matter. It is not in ignorance of this, but specifically because of this that I feel compelled to engage and offer my recommendation to the teacher and candidate.

    To engage students that come naturally to a subject is a great and important thing. To engage the silent majority that do not is impressive. As the self appointed representative of this large group I am compelled to express gratitude for what we received in our time with Mr. MacKnight.

    One of the best friends I have had in my life is now the president of a university and through him I have been kept aware of Mr. MacKnight’s career through the better part of a lifetime. This friend and many others would have achieved great things without Mr. MacKnight. The majority of us however I believe reaped the greatest benefits from his tutelage. I claim this because we had the greatest room to grow, started from the greatest deficit and presented the greatest opportunity for failure.

    Despite a challenging environment I remember passion and inspiration and minute details that may appear insignificant. That after over 30 years I can remember a countenance of a teacher, the arrangement of the desks in the classroom, the anticipation of that 55 minutes of my day is a testament to the impact of time well spent. The actual lessons have become so a part of who I am that I could not separate them into distinctive sound bites.

    All this for the price of a public education.

    I miss the grimace at my answers and the opening of my mind. I miss the ability to be impressioned to such an extent and having access to those that would have such an impact in pursuit of what they love.

    In so many years Mr. MacKnight surely has had countless students. I was not memorable and I know he would not be able to single me out among the thousands. But I remember him and believe many others do as well because of who he is and the enduring imprint he has made on many.

    For all the benefit that I believe has been wrought by Mr. MacNight’s (sp) time, the greatest benefit that could be hoped for is that at least one of his students has followed his example, risen to his level and has become the next generation of motivated, influential skilled teachers.

    A unique individual in my experience.

    I hope that you will value quality and dedication, enthusiasm and results over statistics of years in your considerations.


    Grant Shaffer
    South Salem High School Class of ’83
    Cheap Dirt Groupie w/Eraser at the ready

  17. To whom it may concern,

    Eric MacKnight was my English teacher from 1986-1989 (I could be off a year or two) at the Casablanca American School in Morocco. I remember him well— he is truly one of the few teachers that has left a distinct mark on my education. A very positive one, I might add.

    I had always had a stronger inclination towards the exact sciences, regularly aceing my math, chemistry, and physics exams. Literature, and especially poetry, was something that did not come naturally to me. It was Eric who first made me enthusiastic about the written word. First with Salinger’s ‘Catcher in the Rye’ and Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’, later with Greek Mythology and the wonderful stories of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, and ultimately with Russian masterpieces such as Tolstoy’s ‘Anna Karenina’. He introduced me to the wonderful poetic works of Robert Frost, Walt Whitman, and Emily Dickinson, to name but a few.

    Eric MacKnight taught me to continuously ask myself questions about these literary works so that I would be able to understand and appreciate them more. Next to this, he was an excellent teacher of writing techniques. I was certainly not the biggest writing talent, but I’m convinced he made a better writer out of me than I was before I met him.

    I hope Eric will be able to continue his lifelong work. From what I understand he is not finished yet. Please give him this opportunity.


    Martijn Boerma

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