Happy Teacher Appreciation Week (Year)!

In past blogs, I’ve written about teaching as a type of anonymous donation. We never expect to receive appreciation for the lives we positively impact in the moment. There’s never a situation in recorded history where a student turned to her teacher and said, “Mrs. Guthrie, the way you taught the subjunctive absolutely changed my life…”. Even when a teacher extends her impact outside the classroom by attending a school play… rarely does the student sense the depth of such an action. He wouldn’t have the context or the language to accurately measure his teacher’s impact. And that is alright.

Which brings me to National Teacher Appreciation Week. This has always been a source of celebration and a reminder of how often overlooked we are as classroom teachers for the work we do every day. I don’t want to make to fine a point about it, as its overall intent is certainly benevolent. I believe in the power of recognizing the unsung work expert teachers do (I wrote a book about it, in fact!). Yet there is an element of National Teacher Appreciation Week that is contrived to me…like the image of the Hero Teacher or the stereotype of the School Marm. NTAW is a Hallmark Holiday that serves to honor the work teachers to near the end of the year. I cannot resist thinking about what would happen if we were to find ways to honor this work throughout the school year. What would happen, for example, if we were to insert Teacher Appreciation Events into every month of the school year? Many schools host Teacher Appreciation Lunches, provided by parents, several times a year. Why can’t this be extended into something more unconditional…something that acknowledges that a good teacher’s hard work never ceases, that a small effort made repeatedly from August through June goes a lot farther than a celebration week at a time when we are all immersed in the final push toward the end of the year?

I’ve always viewed the thank-you note as a gift that holds deeper meaning than any material gift (or gift card). Whether from a parent or from the student, such a gift is personal and deeply felt. Putting words to paper, articulating a teacher’s intangible traits and skills, taking the time to seal and deliver the envelope all contribute to the personal connection such a gift creates. 

The last thing I’ll say about this topic is more of an idea stemming from a true event that took place just this week. I was working on a project with a former student (now a producer in LA). A young woman walked into our meeting with a question for this former student. This woman’s jaw dropped upon seeing me. “Mr. Damon?” she asked, incredulously yet with a warmth that was immediately reciprocated. I hadn’t seen or truly thought about this student in 15 years. Yet in connecting with her eye-to-eye, I was brought right back to my 8th grade classroom. I saw her former self in the 25-year old in front of me at that moment. I recognized her mannerisms, her tone of voice, the way her eyebrows raised when caught off-guard. This young woman recalled me in similar depth. The note she wrote me on Facebook was among the kindest I’d received regarding the lasting legacy of a teacher.

So my idea is this: Why not institute a national holiday that requires us to take 10 minutes, contemplate the impact a teacher had on us decades ago, write a note and mail it (or email, or Facebook Messenger or whatever). This could provide us all with a shared moment of pause and reflection. Who knows… it might raise the National Happiness Index in the USA… which currently rests at the not-so-joyous level of #18 on that list, down 4 places from where it was a year ago.

Nat Damon