Everyone who has met me knows I am honest about my imperfections. So, I have to admit, I’ve really struggled with the pressure of writing my official “Teacher Appreciation Week” blog. After all, my entire year has been dedicated to celebrating teachers, and I wasn’t sure how I could find the words to adequately express my depth of appreciation. In the last two weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to visit educators who are at the beginning, the middle, and the “perceived” end of their teaching story. Reflecting on those visits helped me realize why it is so difficult to find the right way to say thank you. In my speeches, I often say, “Teaching is not a profession; it is a lifestyle.” That’s why I’m struggling. It’s easy to tell people thank you for what they do, but how do you ever express gratitude for who they are? We can’t put a price tag on a person, and all of my token attempts at thanking teachers seemed grossly inadequate. For that reason, I’m putting faith in what I’ve told students in over 900 classrooms this year; “Words are powerful.” I’ll attempt to use my words, and if I don’t meet the mark, at least the teachers will know I made a heart-felt attempt. So let’s peek into the lives of some past, present, and future educators.
Last week, I walked into the “Drs. Todd and Beth Whitaker Executive Conference Room” at Indiana State University to meet some incredible future educators who had gathered to celebrate their launch into student teaching next fall. At the end of our time together, I said, “I just saw the future of education, and clearly, it’s going to sparkle.” Dr. Beth Whitaker is the person who gave me the gift of the “make it sparkle” slogan. Because Beth shines a caring light of learning on future educators, they, in turn, reflect that light and shine brightly in their classrooms. As I listened to the future educators, it was clear they had already embraced the teacher lifestyle. One of the celebration activities required the interns to share “tokens” that represented insights from their field experiences. Nearly all of the university students had a watch in their “Token Totes” because as they explained, “There is never enough time, and you never quit working.” Teachers take the stories of their students home with them every night, and they certainly don’t clock out when the last bell of the day rings. I know these future educators are ready for the classroom because they already understand that once their day begins, it really never ends.
Early this week, I visited some of our “present” educators. I had the opportunity to serve as a judge for a Project Based Learning unit in a middle school art classroom. What struck me about this visit was the enormous amount of behind the scenes work that had to go on before I ever walked into the room. I was energized by the interactions I had with the students and the quality of their projects, but I was also inspired by the teacher and student teacher in this classroom. Based on the students’ comments, it became clear that these teachers had spent an incredible amount of time working with individual students to help them maximize their potential. Not only that, but the teacher also showed me an entire packet of assessment materials specifically designed for over twenty different kinds of art projects. Of course, the teacher thought nothing of it, and even asked me for ways to improve the process. She perfectly modeled the teacher belief that because we can always grow, our work never ends. In fact, my co-judges were teachers who were volunteering their prep time to help out. Isn’t it funny how even though teachers never have enough time, they understand the importance of “making time?”
On Tuesday, which was the official “National Teacher Appreciation Day,” I was honored to speak at the LaGrange County Retired Teacher’s Association meeting. My heart was full because sitting in the audience were teachers who had mentored me during my first two years of teaching at Parkside Elementary School. When I had them stand and be recognized, I had to fight back tears. They smiled sweetly, but they clearly had no idea how much they impacted my teaching career. Many years ago, they were going about the business of educating kids, not knowing that a scared young teacher was constantly watching them to learn how to be a better educator. I challenged the retired teachers with my “teaching is a lifestyle” quote because I wanted them to understand that they really aren’t at the end. They will never stop being teachers because they are wired to use their skills in all settings. Their service might not be carried out in the classroom, but they aren’t even close to the final chapter of their own teaching stories; there’s too much more to be done.
And so, to all of our future, present, and never really retired teachers, I share my heartfelt thanks for your willingness to be an educator for life. The day never ends, the work never ends, and the career never ends, yet you continue to do this priceless work because it’s your lifestyle, and by choosing that lifestyle, you are changing the world.