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How to Really Celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week

Published in ChicagoNow, May 4, 2016

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week. Parents all over the country are scrambling to buy flower, mugs, and apple-themed paraphernalia. As a former teacher and early childhood administrator, I know how important it is to let teachers know their hard work is appreciated. Especially these days when the profession is so maligned and judged.

My ten-year-old granddaughter just showed me the card she made for her fourth-grade teacher, whom she adores. It starts off as pictured above.

She goes on to explain why her teacher is the “best teacher ever.” I know girls her age are prone to hyperbole and often have crushes on their teachers. But she enumerates seven reasons why she adores her teacher, and her reasons are pretty good. In fact, I think those who think student test scores are a reasonable measure of excellence in teaching might want to consider what an elementary school student thinks makes a great teacher.

These are my granddaughter’s exact words, presented to her teacher in a mini-book she made:

1) You make all learning fun. Free writing time when you are all done is so fun. And book clubs are really fun and thanks for giving me my first choice every time.

2) You never give a lot of homework! I am grateful for that because I’m very busy. I’m also grateful that you let us do it here at school!

3) You read awesome books to the class! The One and Only Ivan was really good even though I had already read it. How to Steal a Dog was great. Even the books from the unit are great!

4) You are very fashionable! Every day you come in a new beautiful outfit. If you weren’t teaching you could be a supermodel! (OK, she’s a ten-year-old girl. Still, I’ll bet her teacher loved this one.)

5) You just talk about life with us if we want to! Sometimes I come to your desk to say one quick thing and then we drift into a talk about other stuff!

6) You host awesome parties! At Valentine’s Day we ate cookies and pizza and watched Charlie Brown. For our class party we got mounds of free time!

7) You are just awesome! Telling stories about your kids, partners in math everyday – you are just plain awesome! To finish the reasons you are awesome, it would take all the books in the world.

My granddaughter has learned a lot this year, even though she has a teacher who assigns minimal homework and takes time away from “learning” to have a conversation with a child or throw an occasional class party. Aside from feeling it is important for her teachers to be “fashionable,” my granddaughter makes a compelling case for the teachers we all remember. They made learning fun. They read good literature to us, even though we knew how to read by ourselves. They took a personal interest in us and always made time to talk to us about what was important to us. They were real people who treated us with respect and showed us they cared about us as unique individuals.

I must have a dozen of those “I HEART my teacher” mugs, filled with pens and pencils, all over my house. But what really touched my heart was a Facebook message I just received from one of the students who was in my class back in the late sixties when I taught high school English. Now a neurologist living in Florida, he somehow found my blog or Facebook page and we friended one another. Just to set the record straight, we really were not that far apart in age when I was his teacher.

The four years I taught high school students were tumultuous times, an era of chaos and war and change. It was not the easiest of times to be teaching A Tale of Two Cities or Shakespeare. As a brand-new teacher, I never knew if I was doing justice to the material I was expected to teach. Or to the kids I was attempting to reach. So, when I received this message 45 years after I left my job, it brought tears to my eyes:

“In honor of National Teacher’s Appreciation Week, thank you for being my teacher… Every time I played “Sounds of Silence” on the radio I thought of you and the English class. I’m a big fan of teachers, and you were one of my favorite ones… You make more of a difference than you will ever realize. Teachers that care often do.”

My former student and my granddaughter agree. It’s all about the relationship between student and teacher. If you have teachers who made a difference in your life, take a moment to let them know this week. That’s what teacher appreciation is really about.


by Laurie Levy
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