It's Teacher Appreciation Week, and I'd like to say a few words about the teachers who have been important to me-- past, present and future. This list will not be inclusive, so apologies in advance to those I miss, but I have only so much time to type.
There are many teachers who had a huge influence on my work.
When I was just in eighth grade, Mrs. O'Keefe showed me that an English teacher can incorporate just about any activity that involves words. We wrote and we created and we shared stuff in that class that made me excited to get to that room every day.
From my high school teachers, I picked up a variety of values about teaching. Mr. Ferrang showed me the power of waking up minds just by refusing to dumb things down for them. Mr. Eichholtz showed me that literature could be hugely exciting, and that you could form your own personal relationship with each work. Mr. Lore taught me about the power of high standards and expectations. Mr. Bianchi showed me the power of patience in a classroom (he also eventually left me his job when, in one of the best retirements stories ever, the day after his divorce was final, he hit the lottery for 75K and decided that was more than enough to fulfill his dream of sitting on the porch drinking beer and reading books). And my high school band director taught me most of what I know about leadership and courage and creating art and dealing with your mistakes.
In college, Dr. Frank taught me about the power of trusting students to search down their own path. And Dr. Zolbrod opened up a world of teaching possibilities for me while also modeling the gentlest and most supportive approach I've ever seen. The man could give you back a crappy C paper you had written and make you feel like a king who was going to do so much better next time.
I work with a lot of good people, but some of the most influential teachers in my life are people I have only barely met, thanks to a whole world opened up by the blogging biz.
Jose and Mercedes have shown me so much about how a teacher can be a strong and powerful voice for the work-- while still doing it. The BATs and Educolor have demonstrated how to make a movement where before there was nothing, how to create a space and then fill it.
I'm just about out the door here, and I appreciate folks like Stacy and Matt and Jamie and Steve and, well, the list goes on-- teachers who are in the beginning of their careers and will continue the work into the years ahead. My own former students who have picked up the torch and are running with it. All of them bring an energy and commitment to the work that demands respect. Plus, I'll mention the teacher I most appreciate-- my wife.
And somewhere out there are the teachers who will work with my grandchildren and with my young twins, and I'm already appreciating them.
The work is hard and important, and not everybody can do it. It matters that I have colleagues, near and far, who are doing that work, even in the face of obstacles that simply shouldn't exist. It's important that teachers have each others' backs, and that they raise each other up whenever they can.
I have tried to adopt a new strategy in dealing with certain holidays. My problem with many holidays is that they come once a year. Why is that a problem? Years ago I talked to someone who worked at a extended care home for the elderly. "At Christmastime," she said, "We get so many people who want to come and sing and perform and reach out to our residents that we can barely schedule them in. Then by May, it's crickets."
We approach too many holidays, including things like birthdays, as a one-and-done business-- I've wished you a happy birthday and said something nice to you, so I don't have to be nice to you again for a whole year.
So I propose matching acts. By all means-- celebrate a birthday or send presents for Arbor Day. But then, at some other point of the year, do it again. Commit a matching act of appreciation.
So by all means, this week say or do or give something nice to a teacher. And then, find some other time this year to do it again. Reach out and lift up the people who have lifted you up over the years. And have a happy Teacher Appreciation Week.