Did you know there’s a thing called Teacher Appreciation Week? I had no idea until a little into my second year of teaching at a massage school in Chicago. When I discovered it, I also discovered what my students really thought about me. It was surprising, eye-opening, unforgettable.
When I arrived for my evening classes, many students stood clustered around a long table in the hallway of the school. Some bent over, awkwardly cradling books, bags and papers in one arm while they wrote on something with the other arm. I made a minimal-detour beeline for my classroom, as I typically did, and figured there was some kind of group interview or job fair coming up. And here is where I admit that I am that guy — I check email selectively, particularly email that is very specific to one of my jobs. If the subject line or the preview does not seem to be directly related to my job (in this case, to my students or the classes I was teaching), then I delete it right away. I am that guy who asks stupid questions, like, “What’s with all the birthday cakes in the lounge?” or, “Why are there a bunch of students clustered around a long table in the hallway?”
It was, as a colleague told me, Teacher Appreciation Week. On top of that table were cards, one for each instructor. Students got to write whatever they wished to whomever they wished, and at the end of the week, the cards appeared in our mailboxes, complete with messages. I picked mine up at the end of a day and read it on the train home. I was shocked.
I teach because I love it, and because, some days, I’m pretty good at it. I’ve written about it here, and I hope it comes through that I feel a pretty strong responsibility to the students who end up in my class. I try to start each new class with two assumptions: we are adults, and we are able to learn. My job is to create the right circumstances for learning and discovery to happen. Some days are better then others. Some groups are easier than others.
Right there, though, on the card in front of me, was the written proof that somehow these students learned lasting and special lessons that maybe had nothing to do with myelin or the pathologies of the cardiovascular system. Their messages ranged from the simple “Thank you,” to heartfelt words about some specific thing I had forgotten that I did or said to them. One class, small in number but strong in personality, took a whole extra sheet of paper to illustrate and label one of their favorite (?) in-class activities. (I laugh-snorted at that one, and other people on the train gave me lots of room.) I had no idea that so many things were sinking in, coming through, and being remembered. Of course it touched and moved me just as any true sign of appreciation and gratitude touches and moves any human.
I still have that card. I pull it out on days when I am not sure if I have this whole life thing down yet. And that is my enduring gratitude back to everyone who wrote on that card, even if it was a quick, perfunctory “Thank you.” To all of those former students — I thank you. You held me up in ways that you don’t even know.
And if you are thinking of someone, feeling grateful for any little thing, wondering if it would be weird to send a quick message of thanks, let me know: it’s not weird. It’s beautiful. Do it.