This week is the last week of school in my hometown of Sioux Falls, SD and after spending the last school year in and out of schools in the district, I decided to write a letter to these teachers to let them know that I’m grateful for the work they do, day after day, even though so many people don’t get to see the great work that they do.
Dear Under-Appreciated Teacher:
Every day, you head off to work where you educate young minds and provide a role model for who these kids will someday become. But we—those of us on the outside—we forget about you. We forget that behind those locked doors and beyond that recess equipment are adults who are shaping who the next generation will become.
We go about our days, many of us sitting at desks, staring at computers, forgetting that you’re there, responsible for 20+ kids and teaching these kids not only the academics that are essential for their life, but also the rules of the world and where they fit into it.
There’s no one to watch in awe of you as you walk your 20+ students through the hallway with quiet feet and mouths almost every time.
There’s no one to thank you when you take the disruptive student out of the classroom and resist the urge to yell at and belittle him and instead tell him that he’s capable of so much more and that you want to see him show his true potential.
There’s no one to congratulate you when you finally help the last kid in your class to finally say, “I get it!”
But this year, there has been someone watching you. Each week for the past year, I’ve come in to your schools to meet with the handful of students that I’m blessed to get to work. And while I’m gathering my students, I’ve seen you.
I’ve seen you with your classrooms full of students. I’ve seen you one-on-one with challenging students.
I have been in awe of you as I watched you walk your students through the hallway quietly and calmly.
I have been so grateful to you as I watched you talk quietly and calmly to that disruptive child, reminding him of how capable he is and how you know he can do better.
I have been so proud to hear my students talk about that time when they were finally able to say, “I get it!” and how important you were in that process.
These things are not small things.
And since some of you are working with some really difficult children, these are even bigger accomplishments.
You may be attempting to educate a child with medicated or non-medicated (or inappropriately medicated) ADHD, or an oppositional and defiant kid whose first instinct is to do the exact opposite of what you’ve asked.
Maybe you have a student in your class who is instantly aggressive and you have to act quickly to keep everybody safe.
And I know that some of you have a student with a history of child abuse and neglect which has resulted in severe behavioral disturbances such as Reactive Attachment Disorder and other behavioral difficulties that make it really hard to do your job and to do it well.
But most of you still do.
Most of you show up to work each day, knowing that there are going to be plenty of challenges, especially behavioral challenges, and you show up anyway.
Now to be fair, this doesn’t mean all of you. At the risk of sounding mean, I say that I know that there are some of you who hate your job, resent the kids and who think that yelling and belittling the kids is part of your job as a teacher or your right as an adult.
This thank you letter isn’t for you…
This thank you letter is for the teacher who comes to work each day with a smile on her face, excited to see the kids, knowing that even though today is going to be really difficult simply because she alone is in charge of the safety, education and behavior of 20+ kids, she does it anyway.
This thank you letter is for that teacher who smiles upon greeting the kids, frowns when the kids haven’t met his expectations, but is able to smile at those children again (and not just because they’re going home for the day!).
This thank you letter is for the teacher who says, “I believe in you and will ask you to keep striving to be your best” and yet “I respect that you’re a child and will allow you to act like a child” both with her words and her actions.
This thank you letter is for the teacher who views his students as human beings worth respecting, who talks to his students like they are his own children sometimes, who is comfortable laughing with the kids and having serious, life-changing conversations with the kids.
This thank you letter is for those teachers who lie awake at night wondering if they’ve done enough to make a lasting change in their students’ lives!
The answer is that you do. You have no idea how much these kids love, appreciate and respect you, or how much they hope to be just like you someday.
You have no idea how much that one smile means to them on the day when you frowned because they weren’t doing their best. That one smile changed their mindset from “You’re a disappointment” to “I still believe in you.”
You have no idea how much that one touch on the shoulder, tousle of the hair, or hands-framing-their-face gesture means to them. Some of them thought that they were nothing before that gesture. And after? You made them something.
You’d be surprised how much of an impact you made by letting the little failures go and capitalizing on their successes. Before that, all they could think about were their failures. But after? Those successes are at the forefront of their brain.
So to those of you who lie awake at night wondering what kind of impact you’ve made on their lives and whether it will be enough to change their life for the better, know that you’ve done your part.
You’ve been a consistent, loving and compassionate adult in their life who has shown them that they are more capable than they give themselves credit for.
You’ve been the person in this last year that has reminded them that they are important and that they deserve to be loved, and that at least one person in this world truly cares about them and wants the best for them.
Never forget the impact that you can have on them and remind them of their importance every day.
Some of these students have involved parents who have filled their summers with summer camps, playdates and vacations and have plans to spend the warm summer months playing and laughing with their kids.
Others—maybe more than you’d realize—don’t have these types of parents at home and they’re going to miss you when summer comes.
Those words of praise, smiles of affirmation and squeezes on the shoulder will be no more, and all that will last is the memory of how much you cared for them.
I know that you wonder if you’ve given enough of those to last through the summer. And the answer is that if you’re worried about it, you definitely have!
As you say “Good bye” to your students this school year, know that you have made a difference. Know that even though you wonder about that one student and who he’ll become in 10 years and if you did enough to set him on the right path, he will be a better man because he knew you.
You are important, and what makes you so very important to them is that you actually care about who he is going to become in 10 years, or how she believes she deserves to be treated by others. Those are the qualities that make you so important.
It isn’t about whether you were able to have the highest test scores in the school…
It isn’t about whether your students had the highest cumulative GPA on their report card…
It isn’t about whether your students read more books than another other class in the school…
It isn’t even about whether you were able to get your classroom to stay the quietest or to sit with all four legs of the chair on the ground!
It isn’t about anything like that.
What they’ll remember about you is…
- How much (or little) you believed in them,
- How much (or little) you expressed your joy to be around them,
- How often (or rarely) you reached out to give them a hug, a pat on the back or a high five,
- How high (or low) your expectations were for them, and
- How sad (or happy) you were to say good bye after a long year together.
So thank you to you for being the teacher that made your students better human beings this year.
Thank you for caring about them, even when they forgot to listen to you and respect you.
Thank you for believing in them, even when they were showing you behaviors that made it really hard to believe in them.
Thank you for being someone to them that they will remember for the rest of their life.
Thank you for doing what you do!