My son is getting his high school diploma next month, and we’ve been mailing out graduation announcements to friends and family. As we stick stamps and address envelopes, our son has assigned himself another equally meaningful project. He plans to write some thank-you notes to the teachers who have helped him thrive.
I hope he follows through. As I’ve argued in couple of commencement season columns over the years, we don’t thank teachers enough.
This first came to mind in 2007 as I was going through some household papers of my Aunt Elvira, a retired school teacher who had recently died. Although she wasn’t especially sentimental, she’d saved some thank-you notes from parents, setting them aside in a manila envelope. She’d preserved them, I suspected, partly as a testament to their rarity. In her decades of teaching, it seemed, very few parents or children had thought to tell her thanks.
A similar thought occurred to me a few years later when my wife wrote to express her gratitude for a science teacher who had changed our son’s life. We found out later that the teacher kept the note above her private desk as reminder of why she’d embraced her vocation. It was a nice note but maybe worthy of its prominent display mostly because our teacher friend hadn’t gotten too many thank-you notes over the years.
This notion of thanking teachers is something I preach much better than I practice. I’ve taken the time to thank a few of my teachers, but others have died not knowing how much they meant to me. As the years pass, my window of opportunity narrows, which should nudge me to follow through. But we all fall prey to the false hope that there will always be time to say what needs to be said. Which is why, as another school year ends, the best time to thank a teacher is right now — before the classrooms empty, sending mentors and students into their separate lives.
I know firsthand how moving such small gestures of gratitude can be. A few years ago, as a part-time gig, I was asked to teach a writing class at a local university. Maybe you won’t be surprised to learn that I didn’t take the job for the money. For every hour in the classroom, I spent at least two grading papers and making lesson plans. I tried to remember my real reason for teaching — to share a little of what I knew, and maybe learn a few new things myself.
On the final day of class, a few of the students privately approached me to say thanks. It meant everything to me.
No educator should enter the profession expecting thanks. But when it happens, it’s grand.
School will be out soon. Thank the teachers who have helped your child — or helped you. Do it now, before it’s too late.