When I was in the 4th or 5th grade, I had a teacher named Miss Wood. She was an exceptional teacher and I loved her the way a child loves a favorite teacher. Miss Wood read aloud to us almost every day, and in the sleepy, post-recess warmth of her third-floor classroom in Colt School, I would be transported to far-away adventures, carried off by the sound of her voice and the words on the page. She read to us books like Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt, and Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes. She read us The Cay by Theodore Taylor. I am a person who loves to read, and sometimes when I think back I wonder, did I love reading before I was a student of Miss Wood’s, or do I love reading because I was a student of Miss Wood’s?
This was thirty years ago and Miss Wood has long retired, but one morning last fall, as I was walking my youngest to class, I unexpectedly found myself face-to-face with Miss Wood herself in the entry of the elementary school. All at once I was 10-years-old again, and I rushed to her and hugged her and gushed, “Miss Wood, I’m so happy to see you, it’s me, Kristen!”
I think I may have startled her.
We only spoke for a moment because we both had places to be. I told her she was one of the best teachers I ever had and that I remembered her fondly. I have no idea if she remembered me, but I hope she walked away with a lighter heart in the knowledge that I had appreciated her teaching. As we walked to class my youngest asked me who she was and I told him, and I felt lucky to have had the chance to see her and thank her for being such a wonderful teacher.
Now it is spring and the school year is coming to a close, and thoughts of “Teacher Appreciation Day” and end-of-year gifts are on my mind. And just in time, too, since I’ve been feeling kind of cynical about the state of things lately, wondering if kids these days even have the chance to really learn anything in school. Thinking about teacher thank-you gifts has given me a much-needed swift kick in the perspective, and I’m happy to realize that I do indeed have some thank-yous to express this year. I’m thinking of the science teacher who took the time to help my eldest learn to be better organized during a difficult transition, and the language arts teacher who encouraged my child’s imagination all year long by assigning creative book report projects. And especially, the kindergarten teacher who has now welcomed both of my children into the school system with wisdom and a caring heart, a woman who seems to stand like a pillar of calm in the center of a daily swirl of energy. How can I adequately express my gratitude to this teacher?
In the past my end-of-year teacher gifts have ranged from themed gift baskets (“day-at-the-beach” or “book-club”) to gift cards to tokens handmade by my kids, but over the years I’ve noticed that the most appreciated gifts seem to be the simplest and truest – a sincere expression of thanks handwritten on nice paper, or something similar. This feels like something I once knew but somehow forgot, and I am glad to have reclaimed it. I’m suddenly eager to share with my children the experience of taking a moment to think about the year and recognize that they’re grateful to their teacher, and of finding the words to express that gratitude and putting the words on paper.
This year, along with a handwritten note, I’ll give a gift in the teacher’s name to the Bristol Warren Education Foundation, as part of their “Thank a Teacher” program. The amount of the gift is not shared (so there’s no pressure to be extravagant), but the teacher is notified that the gift has been made, and the money increases the funding available for grant proposals submitted by local teachers to the Foundation twice a year. Recently a local documentary filmmaker created a film spotlighting some of the innovative programs that our teachers have been able to bring to their students through grants funded by the Bristol Warren Education Foundation, and after viewing this film I’m thrilled to know I can contribute to the continuation of efforts like these, and also let my children’s great teachers know that I appreciate them. And I think they’ll like that better than getting another coffee mug.