This past week was national Teacher Appreciation week. All of us have had teachers who made a difference in our lives. In fact, when I taught Master level classes at the university, I gave a quiz: Write down the names of your best teachers. Write down the names of your worst teachers. Write down the name of your remaining teachers. Of course, my students could only recall the best and the worst. The remainder were for the most part nameless. No surprise in a society of overload information. Our brains routinely sort and categorize enormous amounts of data into convenient compartments that we can regurgitate when Dr. Suze asks a nonsensical question.
My silly little”test” was merely an intro to an extended discussion about what makes a great teacher. “Some of you in this class aspire to be supervisors, principals, and maybe even a superintendent. Your responsibilities will include hiring teachers. How will you know if you hired the best, the mediocre, or the worst? Finally, based on our discussion this evening, by a show of hands, how many of you have thanked a teacher for making a difference in your life?”
As to be expected, one or two raised a hand. “Your assignment for next week in addition to the readings in the syllabus is to react to the following via the discussion board: What is teacher appreciation?
Of course, the discussion board was jammed with thoughts about teacher pay–no surprise, for that has been an issue for 200 years. However, many mentioned intrinsic rewards. “I had a former student show up in his Marine Corps dress blues.”
“Wow look at you! I’m so proud of you! Thank you for coming by.”
“Ma’am, thank you. Thank you for encouraging me. Thank you for believing in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself.”
Another wrote, “I’ve taught for over 25 years. My most treasured possessions are a handful of cards and letters I received from students. Oh yes, every once in a while I got a bouquet of dandelions, a bottle of stinky cologne, and even a salamander! But it meant and means so much to have a student write me a note or draw me a picture. To me that’s priceless.”
It’s never too late to thank a teacher. All of us who have taught or still teach measure our success on the priceless notes and comments we’ve received from students.