Thank Your Teachers June 7, 2011

Thank Your Teachers

Vjack wrote a beautiful post the other day about a high school teacher of his who recently passed away:

I learned that my favorite high school teacher died recently. I regret that I didn’t make more of an effort to keep in touch with him over the years. The last time I saw him was probably when I returned home after my first year of graduate school. That was a lifetime ago. I could have at least written or something. I remember thinking that he probably had so many students over the years that he couldn’t possibly be that interested in me. Of course, I realize now how stupid that was on my part. Now that its too late, I’d rather focus on what make this teacher special.

I lost one of my favorite high school teachers after I had graduated and I remember going through a similar thought process.

So this year, I tried to do something about it. At least for my own students.

I found a bunch of Thank You cards sitting around my place that I had no immediate use for… so I handed them out in class last week. I told the kids to write (nice) notes to one of their favorite teachers — thank them for teaching you, tell them why you enjoyed their class, just make them feel awesome. And when you’re done, don’t sign it. Just keep it anonymous. This wasn’t about sucking up to anyone — it was about telling a teacher that he/she made a real difference to somebody.

(Added benefit: The teachers might be in a good mood as they calculate everyone’s final grades…)

The kids gave me the notes at the end of the period, and I put them in teachers’ mailboxes later in the day.

I felt like Santa.

Just so no one gets the wrong impression, this wasn’t my idea — I stole it from another blogging math teacher. It’s an example of something anyone could’ve done… but no one ever does. I only had enough cards for one of my five classes this time around, but you can bet I’ll have more than enough next year.

Even if you’ve been out of school for a long while, take a few minutes and send an email to one of your old teachers. Tell them what you’re up to, tell them if anything they taught you stayed with you throughout the years, tell them if you liked their class. It’ll mean the world to them.

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  • One of my favorite teachers back in college passed away shortly before I’d graduated. I wanted to tell her I’d gotten my degree cause I’m sure she remembered me, but never got the chance to do so.

  • aketzle

    This sounds like a great idea. Personally, I’ve had the experience where a teacher I really liked in school and thought liked me, too, seemed totally uninterested in me later on when I saw them, and barely seemed to remember me or care. It’s happened more than once with different teachers. It surprised me how much it bummed me out. I guess I assumed my teachers had to love me forever just like my parents. 🙂

  • Teera

    My German teacher did this as an assignment (this was in the mid-90’s), and since the other teachers didn’t speak German, we had to also write up the translation.

  • I recently finally got in contact with my 8th grade math teacher. This was the age when I was starting to transition from hating math to finding it intriguing and enjoyable, and her obvious enjoyment of the subject helped me to appreciate it as well. Now that I’m working toward a PhD in math, I wanted to contact her and let her know how much I loved her teaching. After a lot of effort I reached her, and she was delighted to hear from me!

  • I wrote a blog post about one of my favorite English teachers a year ago and sent him a link. I think he enjoyed having a chance to hear someone well away from his class still remember it fondly.

    Honestly, gratitude is something we could use more of in general.

  • JenniferT

    I did have the pleasure of a chance meeting with one of my former teachers a few years later and at last having the opportunity to tell him what a jerk I felt he was. I don’t think he remembered me though.

  • Woot Woot

    By any chance do you read the dy/dan blog? He is another math blogging teacher with a decent idea of how to teach.

    (note: I am not him 😉 )

    (Hemant says: I *love* Dan’s blog and I’ve been following him for a couple years now. Even got to meet him in person a couple months ago!)

  • Annie

    Several years after I finished high school, my freshman algebra teacher contacted my parents, asking about me, as he was sure I was in a math field. I had moved away, many states away, and always meant to call him. When I finally got around to it, he had died.

    So, not wanting to miss another opportunity, after I wrote a short memoir piece that mentioned my HS creative writing teacher, I thought I’d track him down and send him the piece. He wrote back, sounding like he vaguely remembered me… but said nothing about the piece!!

  • Eileen

    My senior year I had an amazing man for my English teacher. There are books I would not have read if not for him. He taught me to love shakespere, to value my own intelligence, he changed my life. Wish I knew how to contact him, or if he is even still alive.

  • In the past, I’ve contacted one of my favorite teachers from high school – my physics teacher; he only taught physics for a couple of years at my school, and was one of the smartest people I’ve personally known (at the time, he was 25, and had multiple advanced degrees – he was spending time teaching, from what I understand, while waiting for repairs to a Tokamak at PPL, so he could complete his materials science thesis; knowing where he was at helped – I was able to look him up and email him).

    I’ve wanted to contact my computer programming teacher from high school, but I’ve never been able to find where he went (likely he’s passed away from lung cancer – the guy was a smoking fiend!). Another person I never got a chance to thank was a neighbor who employed me for a few summers, doing lawn/yard care, as well as helping him in his alarm installation business. He gave me an appreciation for opera, and also imparted to me that when I got a vehicle to drive, to “buy something that will work for you, instead of you working for it”; I don’t think I’ll ever own anything other than a pickup since he told me that…

    Something else, though, that I’ve done, is to keep in contact with those who taught me things in my career. I left high school to move to Phoenix, Arizona to attend a technical school (a mistake, I now realize, but not one I can easily or cheaply rectify now); my second job here was as a computer operator. The company I worked for told me they couldn’t hire me as a programmer because I didn’t have a degree or skills for the job.

    So they trained me as an operator – and I was in “heaven” (a cold and loud “heaven”, as it was, because I was relegated to the air-conditioned raised-floor computer room among spinning tape drives, loud computer power supplies, and chattering printers). I learned how to load large printers, spool up vacuum column 9-track tape drives, and kick off reports and other small programs for the other developers.

    In the meantime, when I didn’t have any other work to do – they gave me an account on the system. Long story short, they were monitoring it while I played around writing games and other small pieces of software for fun, learning how to use the system development tools the company used to develop its software (insurance claims management software, at that). Over time, the owner and other programmers started giving me tasks (can you fix this? can you build us this demo program? small stuff). I guess they saw I knew what I was doing, and before I turned 19 I was doing software development for them (at a cut-rate price I now know – how naive I was!).

    That was how I started my professional software development career, almost 20 years ago.

    I’ve long since left that company (and it’s no longer in business), but without them taking a chance on me, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Several of the guys there taught me skills I still carry with me. I’ve made sure to contact those of that company I could to let them know that I was grateful for their help, patience, and understanding. For a few of them, I even helped them to gain employment at places I worked at later.

    So I think in addition to your teachers from grade school and college/university, you might want to think about others who have taught you something in your life that you’ve found valuable, and try to look them up and thank them as well…

  • Irene

    I work as a paraeducator at the local junior high. All students are required to do a 35-day class in Family and Consumer Science class. This is part of a series of rotations to have the kids learn new skills. They are required to take Computers, Wood Shop, Art, Family and Consumer Science, and a Careers class.

    Naturally, there is a bit of cooking going on in the Family and Consumer Science class. Midway through, before they start sewing, they make a ton of cookies. The kids get to eat some, but they also have to do at least one homemade thank you card to an adult in the building. The adult gets two cookies.

    Since there are five rotations it gives all the kids a chance to say thanks to someone who has helped them.

    Sometimes, I get nice, long, detailed cards and sometimes they’re just short. I can assure you that the teachers, paraeducators, janitors, secretaries, and cooks love it and it means a lot to them.

  • There have been teachers who have influenced my life so much. I don’t know where I’d be in life without them. Thanks for posting and for the suggestion.

  • Aimee

    I actually found one of my teachers on facebook a little while ago. I added him but i haven’t actually said anything personal yet. I suppose I wasn’t sure what to say. I had him for 10th grade English, Philosophy and Theory of Knowledge 2. I loved his style of teaching and I learned how to write well, think critically and explore my creativity. He was also emotionally supportive as I went through a difficult time. I didn’t really let him in, but knowing that he cared helped. My youngest brother is in high school now and I keep hoping that he gets in his class.

    So I am now inspired to construct a message for my teacher. I don’t think he checks facebook much in the summer, but he’ll get it eventually I’m sure.

  • Tom

    Did you get many notes from your class addressed to you, Hemant? 🙂

  • John

    Nice idea, but you are making sure to read them before passing on to the intended recipient, right?
    I know there are a lot of great teenagers out there, but giving a class an assignment to write anonymously to any teacher they want, even with the instruction of giving thanks, is bound to result in some mischief.

  • Thanks for the link! Love the idea about having students do thank you cards was excellent. I bet there were some surprised and happy teachers.

    As a teacher myself, I can echo your sentiment about how nice it is to hear from a previous student. So much of what we end up dealing with is negative that it is really nice to hear something positive.

  • cat

    I hated a lot of my teachers, and was indifferent to a lot more. I would say that through elementary to high school, there were only five that I actually liked. Two were math teachers-I hated math in high school less than most classes because it was not something I had not already taught myself years before. Two taught history. One of them let me do whatever I wanted during any class time that was not discussion (granted, “whatever I wanted” almost always meant “quietly reading or drawing a picture). The other, a sixth grade teacher, actually devised a seperate curriculum for me, devising a list of history books from the school and local library for me to read instead, as I already knew more history than the class would teach. The final teacher taught art class.

    It is the problem of being a very early and very advanced reader, as well as a nerdy aspie, at a low income rural school. I sat in a class in eighth grade watching my classmates struggle over a book I read when I was five. Most of those twelve years of school was a complete waste of my time.

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