This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure policy.
When I was little, every year I filled out a new page in my school memories book. There was a page for every year in elementary school all the way through high school. Each page had some questions that you could fill out and a pocket for treasured items like report cards, class photos, etc. One question that was consistent throughout the book was, “when I grow up I want to be…” Each year, my childish scrawl penciled in the word TEACHER. Some years in large wobbly print and later in neat cursive, but the word was always the same.
When I started fifth grade, I moved to a new classroom and had a new teacher. Our new teacher had moved to our rural school from Alaska. He taught us “Alaskan” games that seemed so cool to us. He wore a plaid polyester suit with oval patches on the elbows. This really was fashionable in the 70s. We thought he surely must be ancient because his own children were in college already.
Mr. Kenney was our favorite teacher! He played with us, took us on field trips to watch birds, paint outhouses for the Forest Service campgrounds in the area, gave us logic questions to puzzle through and laughed with us. We learned out math, did state and country reports, learned our spelling words and simply loved school.
When I moved on to high school a few years later, I had another teacher who inspired me. Mr. Blue was my math teacher. He always had students in his office and knew all the kids by name. I was sure he was truly ancient because he had also been my dad’s teacher when he was in high school!
Mr. Blue somehow made math class fun. He would ask us personal questions and get to know each of the students. He knew when we were struggling and would redo the teaching of a concept until we understood.
One day, I was having a difficult time understanding and he invited me to stop by his office for some individual help. This became a frequent occurrence and soon, my understanding improved. He started suggesting that I run for class president. I was the typical awkward high school student who really just tried to do my best and not be noticed. This suggestion was way out of my comfort zone, but a few weeks later, my class elected me as their president!
This past summer, I completed my master’s degree. I have been attending summer school for many summers to complete my teaching certification and then my master’s degree. Last summer, I was in the midst of my last class – the class to prepare me to take my comprehensive exams. Comprehensive exams have such an all-encompassing threat to them. What if I don’t remember everything I’ve learned in this program? What if they ask a question I can’t remember the answer to?
One class period, my teacher was working with us and he asked me what I was going to do after I completed my degree. I answered quickly that I sure wasn’t going to go to summer school! People sometimes have the notion that teachers get summers off and what a great job to have summer vacation for 3 months. Well, my past nine summers have been attending summer school. Great vacation! I’ve gone to the library in Jackson Hole, WY to submit my papers online, I’ve taken my laptop and a stack of books with me on our camping trips, etc. So, I was pretty confident in saying I was not going to go to summer school.
My professor looked at me and shook his head. “You need to start working on your doctorate.”
I was shocked. I have gotten good grades, but working on a doctorate hadn’t really been on my radar. He continued to encourage me and told me that I had the capability to do well and he knew I was prepared and going to do fine on my comprehensive exam as well. Sure enough, I passed a few weeks later.
The power of influence that a teacher has is one of the most long-lasting effects on a person, aside from their family. I know there are negative effects from poor teachers or teachers who are tired and burned out or in the wrong profession. But the positive reinforcement that a good teacher can give a student is immeasurable.
Over the years I have written to each of these teachers and told them about the tremendous impact they have had on my life. My career. My role as a teacher.
Teacher appreciation is something that can be cute and clever on Pinterest, but the real appreciation that fills a teacher’s heart is to know the difference they are making in a child’s life, or the difference they made in your life.
Today, take a few minutes to write an email, hand write a card, pick up the phone and tell a teacher what they have meant to you. Tell them how their hard work and encouragement have influenced you to be who you are today.
After you’ve written that email or made that phone call, I’d love to hear your story. Who is the teacher who has impacted your life and helped you to become the person you are today? What is it about them that made an impact on you?