William Butler Yeats, winner of the Nobel prize for literature, once said that “Education is not filling a pail, but lighting a fire.” Learning from a teacher who approaches education this way truly is a gift that can change a student’s entire life.
For me, that gift came during junior high school in the form of Mr. and Mrs. Nelson. A husband-wife math power-couple, the Nelsons taught math and coached the after school MATHCOUNTS program at my tiny junior high school in the dusty tip of southern Nevada. They were such inspired and tireless teachers that we thought it was fun to stay after school for an extra hour and half every day and work math problems. We even had Saturday marathon sessions a couple of times–not exactly the kind of thing you expect to see junior high kids volunteering for, but we did.
In the classroom and at competitions, we were a team. It was us against the math problems, and the more we trained, the better equipped we were to battle the equations and untangle the word problems. After those two years, I never saw math, myself, or my education in the same way. The experience that empowered me to see myself as someone who was good at math. Someone who could study math or science–who could be a doctor or an engineer–if I that was what I wanted.
I have had many excellent teachers over the years, from elementary school to college. And I owe each one of them a huge “thank you.”
This week (May 7th through the 11th) is Teacher Appreciation Week, and tomorrow (May 8th) is National Teacher Day. So as the school year winds down and students everywhere prepare for finals and graduations, it’s a great time to pause and thank those educators–past and present–who have made a difference.
At the least, they have guided students through a year of learning. And at the most, they have lit a fire, inspiring students to think differently about their subjects and themselves. Either way, we owe them a debt of gratitude.
So why not send your teacher (or your child’s teacher) a note–a simple thank you for doing the difficult work of teaching? Educators need inspiration as much as students, and knowing that they are appreciated can make a world of difference. If you want to recognize an educator publicly, tell us the story of how they inspired you in the comments below.
Or visit the National Education Association’s Teacher Thank-You Project to see the virtual mural of thank-you notes and add your own.
If you are an educator, thank you. Even if it takes years for your students to realize it, you are making a difference. As Henry Adams said, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”
Written by Christine Hoekenga
Christine is a freelance writer, editor, and content strategist, specializing in science and nature. She holds an Bachelor's degree in Environmental Science and Media Studies and a Master's of Science Writing. She has been working in science communication and education for nearly a decade as a journalist, an organizer for conservation groups, and a museum educator. Before joining the Visionlearning team, she served as the New Media and Online Community Manager for the Webby award-winning Smithsonian Ocean Portal. Christine is assisting Visionlearning with developing new modules and glossary terms, managing the blog, and outreach through social media.