Things I Know 290 of 365: Write a teacher a thank you, and you’ll make their day

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be making some suggestions of possible sources of gifts for the teachers in your life. Some will be products for purchase. Some will be ideas of things to make. All of them will be meant to help remember teachers as worthy of thanks.

At each schools year’s finish, I gave the same assignment. Rather than asking my students to write about what they’d learned in the school year as part of some essay that would be far from cherished and not have the time for attention as our other writing projects had, I had them write a letter.

I showed them an manilla folder that travelled with me from my first classroom. “This is the good stuff,” I’d say. “These are the cards, letters, sticky notes and snapshots from kids across the years I’ve taught. On days when I get to the end and I’m pretty sure I’ve screwed all of you up, I read one or two of these. It helps.”

The folder now lives on the bottom shelf of my bookcase. I think of its position as the foundation.

Then, I told my students about Mr. Curry, and how he taught me math in high school and also how to be a caring teacher. I told them about the e-mail I sent Mr. Curry once I was a teacher and realized how much of him was in my teaching. I told them about how he replied and told me it wasn’t nice to make old men cry.

And then I told my kids to think of a teacher in their lives who was their Mr. Curry or who had inspired them or whom they’d like to make proud. “Write a letter to tell them how you’re doing and what you’ve learned.”

And they wrote. They looked up addresses to old schools, addressed envelopes, and sealed their letters inside.

If the teachers were from my school, I got to deliver them and watch as they were read. They were narrative report cards holding only the good stuff – moments of reminders that what they did mattered, and they hadn’t screwed the kids up too badly.

Do that this holiday season.

If you’re a parent, write a letter to one of your kid’s teachers letting them know just how much you appreciate and honor the work they do each day to help your kid (a complete stranger) understand a little bit more about the world and their place in it.

If you’re a teacher, write a letter to one of your colleagues letting them know you see how much they do for your students, your school and your faculty.

If you’re a student, write a letter to a teacher telling them how they helped you learn.

Maybe you’ll be the first entry in their Good Stuff folder.

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Things I Know 274 of 365: Letters make great teacher gifts

The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.

– William James

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be making some suggestions of possible sources of gifts for the teachers in your life. Some will be products for purchase. Some will be ideas of things to make. All of them will be meant to help remember teachers as worthy of thanks.

It sits on the shelf in my bedroom – a manilla folder that should be a box, but whose contents I haven’t taken the time transfer. The tab of the folder bears the faded name of a former student, but the work inside isn’t his.

If I were to give it a name, I’d go with something like, “The Good Stuff.” This is the folder that holds the notes and letters received from students over the last eight years. I don’t have them all, but I have enough.

When I was teaching, this file lived in a drawer in my classroom. On days when I felt like the last thing I should be doing with my life or to the lives of my students was teaching, I’d flip through it and convince myself there must be some good there.

The folder inspired my annual end-of-year assignment that asked students to write a letter to a teacher who had inspired them giving an update on their lives and letting them know the impact their teaching made.

The folder is also what inspires my recommendation for a holiday gift for a teacher. Write a letter – a real letter – letting them know the effect they’ve had in your life or your child’s life. The only thing it will cost you is time, but it will be more valuable to the receiving teacher than you can know.

Take it a step further, write a letter of appreciation about the teacher and send it to the principal.

One of my favorite parts of having my students write their inspiring teachers was the chance to write letters to my own. Even if you are not a student or the parent of a student, consider giving the gift of a letter of appreciation this year to a teacher who’s made a positive impact in your life.

I know from experience how much those letters can mean and how their contents can sustain us in moments of doubt.