Author’s Note: This post was originally written a year ago. Updates are italicized.
Happy Teacher Appreciation Week! It really is a real thing, I promise. Obama made a proclamation and everything. Heck, Chipotle has Buy One, Get One Free burritos today. May is a tough month for teachers, so this week couldn’t fall at a better time. It’s the end of the year. The end is in sight, but there is so much to do. AP Tests, Prom, field trips galore, sporting events, graduation, the list goes on and on.
On the first day of Teacher Appreciation Week this year, President Trump’s administration announced that they would not continue with the education initiative Let Girls Learn, created by Michelle Obama, that facilitated educational opportunities for girls in developing countries. He also proposed cutting an after-school program that serves 1.8 million students who are economically disadvantaged. I have a feeling public school teachers won’t be receiving any sort of tweet of appreciation this week, but hey, at least Chipotle is still giving us free burritos!
This week, my advisory students were assigned the task of choosing a teacher that had an impact on their life and writing them a thank you letter. It is a struggle at this point of the year to get my advisory to do anything but complain. They rose to the occasion. Some wanted to write more than one. Some wanted me to track down addresses for teachers who worked at a different school. Some wanted to hand deliver them and others wanted them to be an anonymous surprise. Some wanted more time to make sure they really did their teacher justice. A few made a joke of it or took the lazy way out, because this isn’t a Hallmark movie special.
This year my students wrote thank you letters again with similar results. It has been fun to work on tracking down teachers from kindergarten through high school, sometimes in different states!
So I suppose it is only right that I also write a thank you to the teachers who have made me who I am today. I have been so fortunate to always have teachers in my life, including my own teachers, coworkers, and peers, who have inspired, challenged, loved, guided, bettered, and believed in me, long after I’ve left their classrooms. I could truly write about every teacher I have ever encountered, but it’s May and I’m a teacher and my to-do list is growing exponentially by the second. So here it goes:
Mrs. Vaughn, 3rd Grade: I had always liked learning, but Mrs. Vaughn’s 3rd Grade classroom at LGS made me fall in love with learning. It was impossible to pick a favorite subject, because she made them all come alive. She had us elect a local government to teach us civics. (I was one heck of a class mayor). Studying for spelling and times tests were exciting when turned into games. We made and played our own board games to learn about the solar system. I had my acting debut in her class. When an adult hurt my feelings, she taught me to handle it with grace and poise while still standing up for myself.
Ms. Mac, 4th Grade: Ms. Mac could have written the book on differentiation and the “I’m very disappointed in you” look. I have never seen a teacher strive to meet every student’s individual needs the way she did. I had read most of the books the class would be reading. So she went to the library and checked out new books for and wrote projects for me to complete to challenge me. No matter how bad you messed up, she never yelled or scolded. She let you know how disappointed in you she was because she knew you could do better. My heart still sinks to my stomach thinking about anytime I fell short of her expectations. I believed I could be better because she believed I could be better. And I still feel a little bit guilty to this day about continuing to pass notes even after she told me not to.
Mr. Adams, 7th Grade: Math was hard. Like really hard. Like whoever had the brilliant idea to put me in accelerated math was wrong. Until Mr. Adams made it fun. He taught me to laugh at myself. He taught me that we all deserve a second chance every once in a while. He taught me that just because it doesn’t come easily doesn’t mean it won’t come at all. I’ll even overlook the fact that he is a Cubs fan.
Mrs. Oxborrow, Drama: Freshman year is terrifying. I maybe would have gone home and never come back if it hadn’t been for Oxborrow’s smiling face on the first day of my drama class. Little did she know she would see me pretty much every single day for the next four years, whether it was drama class, independent study, play practice, coaching me for my speech team piece, letting me bug her at baseball games, or taking up her entire lunch so I could cry about how sometimes life just wasn’t fair.
Mrs. Fillman, Family and Consumer Science: There is a pretty good chance I wouldn’t be a teacher if it wasn’t for this woman. After taking her child development class and working High School/Pre-School, Mrs. Fillman was one of my bosses at my summer job at the Washington pool. One night when closing up, she asked me what I planned on doing with my life. I told her I had no idea. She told me I would be a teacher. I told her she was crazy and there is no way I would do that. She asked if I planned on working at the pool my entire life and throwing away a gift of working with kids. Well it was hard to argue with that.
Señora Sandy, Spanish: My students ask what I would teach if I didn’t teach math. I tell them I think I would teach Spanish because of Señora Sandy. She taught me that a foreign language was so much more than a college admission requirement. Spanish was a doorway to a global community. The talks of her travels abroad inspired me to see the world and I think of her every time I step on a plane. I traveled around Spain last summer because of all of the things Señora shared with me. I ate paella, observed the history, and attempted to immerse myself in the culture. When people ask why I chose Spain for my first solo trip abroad, I tell them because of Spanish 4 with Señora.
Mrs. Dayhoff, English: This blog exists because of this woman. She taught me to write for myself. Every day when we walked into her English 11 class, we were instructed to write. We wrote about anything we wanted to. There were no prompts or requirements. We were to write for the sake of writing. I looked forward to that free writing time every single day. It gave me a chance to sort out the thoughts and feelings I had as a 17-year-old in a safe space. She allowed us to write “DO NOT READ” at the top, and she would honor that. She taught me to write to share my feelings, sometimes with others and sometimes with myself. She assigned books that made you feel. She spent Saturdays with me at speech tournaments. She was one if the first adults to treat me like more than a teenager. She taught me that the little things were really big things. When she saw a copy of the play that my Mid-Illini conference winning (humble brag) speech piece was from in a used bookstore, she gifted it to me. I smile every time I see it on my bookshelf.
Mr. Smith, Math: I had decided I wanted to be a teacher, but I didn’t know what I wanted to teach yet. That is, until I was in Mr. Smith’s class. Math never came easy to me. Everyone else seemed to get it right off the bat, but I had to work at it. Mr. Smith taught me to love the struggle. Many mornings were spent asking him to explain something just one more time while he had breakfast duty in the commons. He believed I could do it, so I in turn believed in myself. He was the first person I told that I was thinking about being a math teacher, and he was the first person he told me he really thought I could be successful as a math major.
Karin Sconzert, Secondary Education: My first college class ever was Education 101 with Karin Sconzert. My last official college class was Classroom Management with Karin Sconzert. I could not have asked for a better professor to bookend my Carthage career. She didn’t sugarcoat the business we were getting into. It was going to be hard. We were going to get frustrated. There would be a lot of things out of our control. A lot of education professors like to paint education as nothing but rainbows and butterflies. Anyone who has spent more than five minutes in a classroom will tell you that is false. Karin let us know what we were getting into an equipped us to be successful despite the obstacles. We read stories and listened to guest speakers. She put us in classrooms that allowed us to experience the real deal. She continues to support us into our careers, whether it’s sharing resources, or if your as lucky as I was, offering words of encouragement in her kitchen.
Janet Carpino, Math: I had the opportunity to observe Janet Carpino when I was completing my undergrad. I was overwhelmed with schoolwork and contemplating if I was making the right career path. Until I got placed in her Algebra 1A/1B class. Most of the students didn’t speak English as their first language. Many of them were special education. A lot of them had some severe behavioral issues. Watching a very pregnant Janet teach this class rejuvenated my decision to become a teacher. I wanted to be Mrs. Carpino. A few years later, I had the incredible opportunity to be her colleague. Her guidance and support helped me become the teacher I always dreamed of being.
Sonya Sutton, Math: December 2012 I received a piece of paper that changed my life. I would be teaching high school with Sonya Sutton in the Spring for my final student teaching placement. Her no-nonsense attitude equipped me to deal with my toughest classes. I had never met someone capable of treating every human they encounter with genuine respect, but Sonya does. She is now a guidance counselor. I think she spends just as much time providing guidance to the staff as she does providing guidance to the students.
Jackie Yunker, Math: I got really lucky when I got a work best friend and a life best friend all in one. I strive to achieve the patience she has when working with students. Her willingness to share lessons, ideas, insights, and baked goods is unmatched. Her willingness to set aside her to-do lists to let me vent has kept me sane. She believed in me as a teacher on the days I didn’t believe in myself.
Lea Sparks, Math: I used to spend my spring breaks and part of my summers in Kentucky with my aunt, who was a middle school math teacher. In August, we would go to the store where she would buy school supplies for all of her students, out of her own pocket. I remember being so confused as to why she would have to buy all of her students supplies out of her own pocket. She made sure every student had what they needed to be successful. When I would go to school with her, we would get to school before the sun made an appearance. She taught me that teaching is selfless.
I could go on and on and truly never do these incredible ladies and gentlemen justice. You have cheered with me in my victories and felt my pain and my sorrows. I would not be who I am if you all had not been in my life. In all things I do as a teacher and as a human, I am inspired by you all. I hope to someday be half the teacher that you all have been in my life.
If a teacher helped make you who you are today, take a minute to thank them this week.