Updated: Jul 8, 2020
Happy teacher appreciation week! I admire our teachers so much. Some of you may know that I dabble as a teacher. I work part time as an ESL teacher with VIPKid, teaching English to students in China. While it's a fabulous job, each time I have a student refuse to answer a question, pick their nose, suck on their toes (yes, you read that right) and every other rude and disruptive behavior in between I am even more thankful for the men and women that have the strength to do this every day.
This year's teacher appreciation week is all the more special, as it falls during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, more than ever, we're asking our teachers to adapt to new and changing circumstances, handle it like pros, and continue to inspire their students. So, I thought I'd do a little something to honor the teachers in my life and in our country.
Below, I've included 5 of the most impactful things teachers have said to me. These are teachers that made real, long-term impacts in my life. Some of these comments aren't all good, mind you, but they shaped me into the woman and academic I am today and I'm grateful for that!
1. Please don't take this the wrong way, but I've noticed you haven't been yourself lately. You've been kind of down, your skin is breaking out, are you okay?
Everyday, teachers are asked to manage the lives of dozens of students. They must track the learning goals for their students, look out for signs of abuse or learning disabilities, take charge of clubs and extra-curricular activities and still find time to plan their lessons for the next day! Now, full disclosure, I went through a bit of a rough patch my junior year of high school. It was the first time I struggled my way through a depression. Usually, I was pretty good at hiding my internal implosion through smiles and sarcasm. It took months for me to even open up to my parents about it. So, when my drama teacher stopped me one day privately to ask me how I was doing, I was truly touched. It meant everything that she saw me and cared enough to check in. We didn't talk too much about what I was going through, but I knew she cared... and that was all that mattered.
2. Maybe if you spent as much time thinking about school as you did about national honors society and drama this wouldn't be an issue. I think you need to look at your priorities.
Okay, story time! Yes, 7 years, a degree, a specialization, and an acceptance into a Ph.D. program later, and I'm still bitter about this one. You see, my senior year of high school I missed a pop quiz. To make it up, I went into a private room with the student aide (one of my friends) to take the test. I told her I didn't know the material and went to turn it in. She replied by saying "It isn't in the textbook? Look." Fast forward a couple days later, and this teacher was yelling at me calling a cheater and telling me I didn't have my priorities straight. This comment goes down as one of the most hurtful things that has ever been said to me. Little did she know, but I was working my BUTT off on this class. I was staying up until two or three in the morning studying every night. Learning didn't come as easy for me as it did for my peers and it wasn't until much later in my educational career that I would learn strategies to manage my learning challenges. I walked away from that conversation and spent the next hour hysterically crying and hyperventilating in my drama teachers classroom in front of dozens of people.
It was humiliating. I had been working so unbelievably hard to impress this woman. I wanted her letter of recommendation and her respect. I admired her. And she had insulted my character and belittled me. She insinuated that I cared more about theatre and clubs than I did about improving my grades... which was no where near true.
Needless to say, I got an A in that class. After quite a few sleepless nights and tears, I got that A and I got it for me, not her. From that moment on, I learned to respect myself more than ever before. Only I knew the work and dedication I was putting in. I trusted that my best was all I could give and it was more than enough.
3. This is a good idea.
In college, I went to a professor to chat about something I had found interesting. I was working in the Psychotherapy Clinic and Research Lab at the time transcribing therapy sessions. I went to my professor hoping to get some insight on a question. After an hour of conversation, she told me I had a good idea and asked me if I wanted to do a research project on it.
Well, that project turned out to be my senior thesis, my first research presentation at national conferences, and my first published paper. I talked about the project in all of my graduate school interviews. This one comment was the start of a relationship that went on to help me learn, grow as a researcher, and feel inspired as a young academic.
As tough as it is to hear undue criticism from teachers, getting a little bit of encouragement goes a long way!
4. If you want to get into grad school, maybe some of the...other... things in your life need to end.
Let me tell you about the time an extremely sexist professor told me I wouldn't get into graduate school because I did pageants. That's right. I went to one of my favorite college professors asking if I could TA for one of his classes. He basically told me that he looked me up online, had doubts about my GPA after doing so, and told me that if I planned to get into a program I would need to focus on school and stop doing pageants.
Well, professor, I went on to compete in two other state pageants after this comment AND I got into my graduate program. Thank you for teaching me that I CAN do it all. I can be smart and beautiful. I can be a great student and find time to compete in a pageant. Your comments were rude and unfounded, but they motivated me more than any others.
5. I don't normally do this, but I thought I would share a portion of the letter. I truly do think you are fantastic.
Following my college graduation, I got a job in the research lab of one of my college professors. That professor has become one of my biggest role models. I poured my blood, sweat and tears into this job, working well over 40 hours a week at a time. My boyfriend, friends, and family easily got irritated with my schedule. Unfortunately, I sacrificed a lot of time with them to put my focus and energy on this job.
But, this one little sentence from her was enough for me to know it was all worth it. I felt capable, and accomplished reading her words. I felt like someone believed in me, saw all of my hard work, and appreciated me.
As you can see, there's a bit of a theme here that has nothing to do with school. Our teachers help us learn how to read and do math, but they do so much more. They grow our self-esteem and self-worth. There is nothing more powerful than a teacher noticing you, and nothing more impactful than when they fail to notice you.
Thank you teachers! Thank you for managing to see and inspire your students on top of all of your many other responsibilities. You are truly under appreciated hero's!