To All the Teachers I’ve Ever Had, I Can’t Thank You Enough

To all the teachers I've had before

Teaching is hard. Anyone who believes otherwise has either never met a teacher, or clearly wasn’t paying attention during their 13+ years inside of a classroom. Teachers have a lot on their plates. They scramble to close grade books on time. They have parents rant about why their child deserves an A (when they clearly don’t). Sometimes they even end up using that teacher bladder to get through the day until they can finally go to the bathroom.

In spite of everything that teachers do, some people still have the nerve to say “Those who can’t do, teach.” A more accurate version of that would read, “Those who can’t do, ought to stay as far away from the classroom as possible,” because teaching is not an easy profession. And it definitely is not for the faint of heart.

I am not a teacher, but I did teach eighth grade English for a year while filling in for one on administrative leave. During that time I realized that I had no idea what my teachers were dealing with. And mind you, I went to public school for all of my K-12 years and got a four-year degree. I’ve spent ample time in the classroom and have had a lot of teachers. But it wasn’t until I was the one standing in front of the classroom that I could fully appreciate everything they did for me. With last month being teacher appreciation month, this feels like the perfect time to write a thank you letter to all the teachers I’ve had before.

Thank You for Being So Much More than a Teacher

One of the first things I learned when I started teaching was that, ironically, I wasn’t always a teacher. If a student came to me crying, suddenly I had to put on my “counselor” hat. Some days I needed my “referee” hat to keep students from fighting. Other times, kids came to me hungry and I reached for my “snack master” hat.

Confidant. Psychologist. Mediator. Cheerleader. Students rely on their teachers for many of these roles, and teachers accept them all with grace. There were times that I felt emotionally drained, yet grateful when I was able to help out in some small way. I think that kind of pain, that struggle of balancing all these different roles, is part of what makes teaching such a fulfilling career.

Thank You for Putting Up with the Pressure

Not only is teaching demanding on your mental, physical, and emotional health, there’s also a lot of pressure to be really good at it. If admin doesn’t like what they see during an observation, there are consequences. If students are getting bad grades, it’s the teacher that didn’t teach them properly. If a school gets low marks on state standardized tests, teachers are among the first to be thrown under the bus.

Never mind when students take zero responsibility for their work, or the state tries to shove more standards into an already crowded curriculum. It’s a sad truth that so many are quick to blame teachers when things go wrong, rather than thank them when something goes right.

Thank you for Treating Us Like More Than Students

Over the course of my one-year teaching career, I noticed a shift in the way other new teachers and I spoke about our students. At some point, we had stopped calling them “students” and started referring to them as our “kids.”

I remember one day a coworker came out of her classroom looking particularly drained. I raised an eyebrow and asked, “Kids?”

She sighed and nodded wearily, “They honestly have no idea how much we do for them.” 

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We took a couple of minutes to rant about everything we had done for the kids, and how underappreciated we felt. Then, suddenly, we both started laughing because we realized we must’ve sounded just like our parents. 

Of course, we understood we were just their teachers, but those kids had grown on us in a way that made them almost feel like family. If one was upset on Monday, we checked to see if they were feeling better on Tuesday. When they asked us to come to their dance recitals or volleyball games, we went. Yes, we had a million other things to do, but when our schedules allowed it, we had no problem supporting our kids. Knowing what I know now, I’m grateful for all of my teachers that supported me like that.

Thank You for Working With a Teeny Tiny Paycheck

 In other parts of the world, teaching is a profitable profession; one that can easily be used to support a family. But in the United States, teaching is notorious for being a low-paying career. Recent studies show that 1 in 5 teachers need a second job to make ends meet.  Which should be considered criminal, given all that they do. 

Obviously, nobody in the U.S. goes into teaching for the big bucks. The very best teachers are the ones who do what they do simply because they love teaching. And those were the teachers that I’ve found stayed with me the most throughout my life. 

Thank You for Seeing the Best in Us

I remember my high school Spanish teacher insisted on telling everyone I was “bien hermosa e inteligente.” It was embarrassing at the time, but looking back I’m grateful that he could see that in me when I couldn’t see it in myself. High school was hard for me; I struggled with bullying and severe chronic pain. Little nudges of encouragement like that in school went a long way.

Another teacher totally rained on my parade after I celebrated having an A- as my midterm grade for her class, saying it wasn’t enough. She explained that she high-fived some of her students who got a B because she knew that was their very best work.

But in your case, an A- isn’t your best work,” she said bluntly, “I know how smart you are. And I know that you can get an A.”

Ouch. But turned out she was right; I really wasn’t doing my best. There were plenty of things I wasn’t good at, but academics was something I could do right. Plus, her class had been one of my favorite subjects. I had no excuse for being anything less than a top student there.

That conversation happened in the sixth grade, and it has stuck with me throughout the years. Not just in school, but in all aspects of my life. I always think of that day whenever I feel tempted to slack off.

To All the Teachers I’ve Had Before: Thank You!

Since I couldn’t find an exact statistic for this, I did my best to tally up the number of teachers I’ve had over the years. Turns out, it’s taken about 100 teachers to get me from preschool to a Bachelor’s Degree. Roughly 60 were from my K-12 days and the remaining 40 were college professors. And those were just the teachers that gave me grades! I don’t know how many of them remember me, and I know for a fact that not all of them even liked me. Still, they’ve all played a part in helping me get to where I am today. 

And those are the best kind 🙂

So to all of my old teachers and to teachers everywhere, thank you. Thank you for sitting through all the meetings, for hearing out every unreasonable demand, and for pushing your kids to be better every day. I wasn’t a teacher for very long, but I was there long enough to see that teachers really don’t get the praise they deserve. It can be a thankless job, but also one of the most rewarding ones. And teachers, if your kids don’t tell you what you mean to them now, odds are they will be thinking it later. Especially the ones that end up with their own classrooms someday.  

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