Countless numbers of truly inspiring teachers pour their passion for learning into eager — and even not so eager — young minds, and they do it not for the public praise and recognition but for their love of children and teaching. You all know this type of teacher, and most likely, as you read these words, a face or name comes to mind.
As we all know, things changed in 2020. And just like in so many other areas of our lives, education and the classroom experience faced a monumental shift. Stay-at-Home orders, school closures, and eLearning morphed into mask mandates, hybrid learning models, and so much more, and all of it placed parents in new roles with their school-aged children.
I was hoping one of the positive impacts of the pandemic might be a lingering appreciation for the work of educators. Perhaps, even, a reality check for those who never found fault in their child! For some, I think that’s true; for others, it seems short memories and even shorter tempers are dominating the landscape.
Three reasons to thank a teacher
When I think of important teachers — not only in my life but also those who taught my children — the list is long. There are many for which I hold deep respect and regard. However, when I stop to consider profound influence, that number shrinks. Although I hate to narrow it down, two educators rise to the top for me.
While the “reasons” likely vary from person to person, these are mine as I think specifically about those who made a significant impact in my life. And if you were to ask me why you should thank a teacher, the three qualities listed below would be included in my list.
Caring beyond the classroom
First, I need to tell you about my 8th-grade history teacher Janet Bowling (formerly Janet Johnson). In K-12 and beyond, many amazing teachers crossed my path. However, for me, Janet had that secret sauce. I have vivid memories of her classroom. My friends and I often gathered in her room after school, where she listened to us, laughed with us, cared about us, and ALWAYS made us think. She was not the “easy” teacher; she challenged us academically. However, she genuinely cared for us — awkward, silly middle-school-ness and all!
Janet’s belief in my ability to excel made her special. Her encouragement at that pivotal age pushed me to perhaps greater academic heights than I would have found on my own. Year after year, I would return to my former middle school — and then later to the high school campus across town where she became a counselor — to see her. Although my impromptu visits no doubt disrupted her workday, she never seemed bothered or inconvenienced when I arrived.
The importance of caring adults in the life of a child can’t be overstated. Janet was one of mine.
All these years later, Janet and I still keep in touch. Life for both of us has taken many twists and turns since those middle school days, but I’m thankful to now call her a friend.
Although our relationship has changed through the years, she still pours into me in some of those old familiar ways: a listening ear, an encouraging remark, a challenging question, all laced with care, support, and kindness.
If I could only thank one teacher, it would be Janet. And the beautiful thing is I know I’m not alone. We all have that one teacher, that “Janet,” in our educational background. Who is yours?
The gift of second chances
I hope you enjoyed that warm and fuzzy tribute because what follows is none of that! When Doug and I were newly married, we lived in Huntsville, Alabama, and I decided to return to college to become an English teacher.
Writing always had been one of my strengths. Even at Texas A&M, where I was a less than dedicated student, I made As in the writing courses I had to take. I liked writing and also had success with it. That is until I took a Shakespeare course with Dr. John Mebane at the University of Alabama at Huntsville.
At this point in my life, I was a highly motivated student. Not only were my priorities different during this new phase of life, but also the cost of my education sat squarely on mine and Doug’s financial shoulders. Suffice it to say, I never missed class, and I studied. Funny how just those two things can make a big difference. #lessonslearned
Anyway, back to Shakespeare with Dr. Mebane. As a professor, I found Dr. Mebane intimidating and also slightly arrogant. In fact, I didn’t particularly like him or his tightly-timed, all-essay exams. But when he gave me a 70 on my first paper, well, then I knew I needed to add “terrible teacher” to his list of shortcomings.
Determined to refute his grading and argue the merits of my paper, I stomped into his office hours. Well, stomped is probably too strong a word. I am not confrontational by nature, but more importantly, I was smart enough to realize that “getting my way” most likely wouldn’t happen with snarky behavior. After all, as the adage goes: You catch more flies with honey than vinegar! Nonetheless, I came prepared.
Although he didn’t just concede to all my points and change my grade, he did something unexpected. He gave me a second chance. He showed me where the weaknesses were in my writing. He taught me how to improve. It wasn’t a complete do-over; the opportunity for an A on that paper was off the table.
I don’t remember the full details of that interaction. However, I do remember how I felt when I left. While I still was irked by the grade, I was grateful for the gift of a second chance.
Focused on the learning
I also grew from that experience with Dr. Mebane, and in the process, learned an important lesson about education: Ultimately, it’s about the learning. Nothing about that class was easy. In fact, it was downright hard. Dr. Mebane and I didn’t forge a forever friendship, and I was happy when the course was complete.
However, I always remember that experience and the sense of growth and accomplishment I felt. I left that class a better academic writer, but also with an odd appreciation for him as a teacher. His goal was not for me to like him, but he did want me to learn.
As a college professor, he easily could have drawn a hard line in the sand on his grading. He could have seen me as a casualty of his rigorous curriculum and worn that like a badge of honor. Had he done so, I might or might not have figured out how to marry my writing with his expectations.
When I reflect on that experience, I remember feeling like he was a partner in my success, and that, to me, made a lasting difference.
How will you thank a teacher
Although I spent a decent amount of time working in education, my time in the classroom was brief. However, I still cherish the sweet notes and letters from parents and students above the gifts I received. The written word is a lasting treasure and a priceless gift.
So, whether or not you wait for Teacher Appreciation Week to thank a teacher, I hope you will take time to honor those who made a difference in your life.
Who deserves your thanks today?