It’s that time of the year again, when we honor our teachers with Teacher Appreciation Week. It wasn’t nationally recognized until 1984 when the Parent Teacher Association designated the first full week of May as Teacher Appreciation Week. The following year, the National Education Association voted to make the Tuesday of that week National Teacher Day.
Can I tell you a little secret, from a former teacher? Those that are truly called, those that have a heart for teaching really don’t want your cash, your gifts or flowers. They would just like a sincere word of thanks. One that is not bought in a card or forced, but rather a handwritten note with personal stories.
I was blessed and honored any time I received one of those, and I can tell you that I still have EVERY one. Although each gift was very appreciated by me, the flowers died, the cash was spent (quickly) and the gifts were used, but the words of gratefulness still remain.
So with that in mind, I’m writing an open thank you letter to my first grade teacher.
Dear Mrs. Paula Harper,
In 1975-76 at Mt. Comfort Elementary near Greenfield, Indiana you began your teaching career and I began my education. I suppose every generation will remember their own childhood with nostalgia, but those were the “good ol’ days” before high-stakes testing and the expectation that every kindergartener must read by the end of the year. I wish I could say I remember exact moments and words you spoke, but I don’t. However, I do recall the way you made me feel…loved. Happy to be at school. Enjoying each day. Excited to go back.
It was the days of Letter People and we learned the sounds each letter made. I loved learning about Miss A for A’choo all the way to Mister Z for Zipping Zippers We had Show and Tell and usually brought something to do with these letters and sounds.
I remember doing a play about The Tale of Peter Rabbit where young Peter Rabbit is chased about the garden of Mr. McGregor. He escapes and returns home to his mother who puts him to bed. Our parents came to watch and I was so excited to be in that play. Isn’t it ironic, I don’t remember my specific part?
I loved you so much, and was ecstatic to find out that I had you as my first grade teacher as well. As it happens in schools, teachers get moved to different grades depending on the number of students, I’m not sure how you felt about this move, but I was extremely happy.
I think the second year I spent in the confines of your classroom were even better than the first. I remember more about this grade. You taught me how to read in reading groups held in a corner of the room separated by movable coat closets.
We learned about Japan. The hallways and classroom were decorated with Japanese culture. We took our shoes off before we came in the classroom and attempted to eat hot dogs and rice with chopsticks.
My best memory, however, is one I’m sure not many other students got to experience. You came to my house for dinner. It probably had something to do with the fact my mom was a teacher and subbed frequently at my school my first year. I don’t really care how it got to happen, only that it did, and nearly 40 years later I still remember and am so thankful. I was running around the house that evening before she arrived wanting everything to be perfect for Mrs. Harper. The meal was a blur, I think I was too nervous and excited to eat, but afterwards you saw my room and I felt like I had the Queen of England in my bedroom.
That memory alone pushed me to visit my students’ sport games as much as I could. I realized how empowering that could be to a child.
So, thank you, Mrs. Harper. You were the living embodiment of what a good teacher was to me. I measured all my future teachers against you. Some missed the mark, others got really close, but no one exceeded your love and care you had for your students.
You have impacted my life in ways you could not have predicted. You have been thought of many times throughout my life and remembered fondly. My prayer was (and is) that I would be remembered in such a positive way in my students’ lives.
They may forget what you said — but they will never forget how you made them feel.
CARL W. BUEHNER
What about you? Have you told a teacher lately how much you appreciate them?