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Monday, May 7, 2012

Teacher Appreciation

Today marks the beginning of Teacher Appreciation Week. There shouldn't have to be a week designated for acknowledging the positive and constructive impact that many teachers have had on countless learners everywhere. Not a day passes without someone someplace benefiting from the influence, dedication, and support of a teacher.

Let me share a reflection from someone I know very well.

His favorite teacher was never an instructor who stood before him in any classroom. He never received a grade from his pen, nor a check on his daily roster. The school he attended was large enough that he passed through the curriculum without formally interacting with this individual of distinction. Yet, the teacher's contribution echoes throughout his life to this day.

Trauma and drama were compulsive companions throughout his childhood. It was a time bereft of dreams and burgeoning with nightmares. Suffice it to say, it was an emotional gauntlet at home, with school providing him a welcome refuge from the residue of poverty and abuse.

One day his mother decided to escape the burden of shepherding seven children through their childhood amid a turbulent marriage and violent environment. Her overdose was enough to confine her to a hospital room for several days, the first of which offered no indication of life or death as an outcome. Nonetheless, following evening visits to her hospital room, the boy would go to school each morning without notifying anyone outside of his apartment of the incident.

A teacher approached him in the hallway between classes as he passed by his room and asked the boy how he was doing in school. The student responded with a nondescript, "okay." That reply apparently wasn't enough. The teacher led him into his classroom and inquired further. The teacher was not deterred by the boy's defensive answers designed to deflect attention. Finally, the teacher intimated that a relative of his was a nurse in the local hospital. He went on to explain that while there was no intent to divulge confidentiality, the nurse became aware that the boy was lacking counseling and felt she should reach out to the teacher to prompt support. At that point, the boy collapsed and sighed like a punctured tire suddenly losing air.

He assured the boy that he had not told anyone because he respected that the youngster had not volunteered any information to anyone on the staff of the school. In addition to the stigma associated with suicide and mental health issues many years ago, the boy couldn't imagine that anyone would care about his plight. The teacher simply stated that he was just checking in on the boy's status and reminded him where his room was in the event the boy wanted to take a time-out or talk to someone. They chatted briefly, but the teacher's action spoke volumes more than spoken words.

That teacher will likely never know how much his investment of time and compassion meant to the boy. The kind gesture by a teacher who was not responsible for any part of the boy's formal schooling was invaluable. Each time I recall that personal revelation, shared to me years later by the man who grew out of that boy, it reinforces an adage I came across years afterward and applied regularly to my experiences in education:

"People don't care about what you know until they know you care."

Great teachers consistently demonstrate sincere care and compassion, and wield those attributes beyond what can be measured by a GPA or displayed on a diploma. Take a moment to reach out and express gratitude to a teacher who made a difference in your life.


  1. It is a shame you did not take this opportunity to thank the teachers on your faculty at Heatly.....

    1. It a shame that this anonymous comment was conveyed after one day of a week-long Teacher Appreciation Week, without the writer considering the possibility that arrangements had already made made to express my appreciation for all of our staff members this Friday at a special luncheon prior to our staff development session at noon.

  2. Regardless of whether or not there was some form of recognition "in house" a public statement no doubt would have been appropriate. I did not see any additional posts made during teacher appreciation week to publically thank staff - or to encourage the community to thank the staff either. As you mentioned, we shouldn't have to have an appreciation week, but staff are often taken for granted. As a community member I know how hard this staff in particular works. I just wish you had encouraged the rest of the community to reach out to the staff (the way you always ask staff to reach out to the community) during this week. You always say how important it is to lead by example... I think our first poster has a point.