Teacher Appreciation Week: Thank you, teachers!

Lei's pre-k teacher with my son at age three
Ms. Diane was one of those great teachers who truly understood and enthusiastically loved Lei. She continues changing lives as an early childhood teacher of the deaf. We will never forget her!

Remember your favorite teacher?

Was it one who told great stories? Or one who told you that your career as class clown could take you to the stage? Or one who sent you a hand-made card when you were sick? Maybe it was one who challenged you to think big?

Ask anyone who their favorite teacher was and why, and they will give you a name and a story—each different and completely unique.

I’ll never forget my sixth-grade teacher, Mrs. Polasek. She wore tweed vests and thick glasses and careened Gilmore-Girl style through instruction, peppering her lessons with rapid-fire jokes, pausing to check in: “Clear as mud? Great!” And on she barreled.

In her class, I learned my times tables by clapping two fingers against my palm, in rhythm with my classmates, and answering her as she chanted problems out.

“Six times eight is –“

“48!”

I was terrible at math, but Mrs. Polasek found ways to teach me. I still quietly chant math facts to myself when I need them. Thanks, Mrs. Polasek.

That’s what a skilled teacher does. Year after year, decade after decade, as students stream through their classrooms, skilled teachers convey information, but they also do so much more.

And you can tell a skilled teacher because their students get better grades and test scores, right? Well, maybe. A teacher who gives a hungry child’s family a grocery store gift card might not make that child into a top performer, but that evening the child will eat dinner. That matters.

A teacher who advocates for a child to get tested for a learning disability shows that child that though he has challenges, he is not a lost cause. That matters.

When teachers welcome their students in the morning with a sincere smile, high five or hug, they are showing that they care. A great teacher I know likes to say, “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Teachers are paid to teach, not care. But caring matters.

Every school day, kids are in the care of people whose job it is to convey information. But let’s face it, they do so much more.

Every school day, teachers are raising our kids to love learning, to treat each other well, to respect themselves and others, to take responsibility and give of themselves. These things can’t be graded or measured on a test, but they really matter.

At a time when teachers are blamed for many of society’s ills, I want to say, loud and clear, teachers matter.

Teachers are raising our children alongside us. They are mentors, advocates, guides and cheering squads for our kids. Beyond conveying the content of individual lessons or curricula, they are helping our kids learn how to work together and opening their eyes to global issues. The conversations they have with our kids, the formal and informal lessons in life, the ways they help our kids move forward step by step—these all matter tremendously. Without teachers who give children more than facts and more than grades, there can be no stable future for this country.

So I want to send my heartfelt thanks out to my former teachers, my children’s teachers, and all the teachers who have labored day after day, year after year, buying supplies with their own money, staying up late grading, sacrificing their afternoon family time for kids who would otherwise go home to an empty house.

Thank you!

Even though history books don’t know your names, your former students do. Your names are carried in our hearts as we go through the ups and downs of life, as we read to our kids at night and help them with their math at the kitchen table, and as we do our jobs and hobbies. Countless times every day, your former students are using what you taught them and remembering what you did for them by being better citizens, better parents, better human beings. Your names are known and your work will never be forgotten.

You matter.

Joel-on-front-steps

This appeared as a guest blogger post the INCS blog, in honor of Teacher Appreciation Week. 

I dedicate this appreciation to a teacher who has changed my life in countless ways: my husband, Joel. He is a middle school band and music teacher, and I deeply admire and respect the work he does. He mentors and yes, even parents his students, many of whom have few positive male role models in their lives. His dedication has saved and changed many lives and I am beyond proud to walk through life with this good, good man. 

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