Before I had any books or blogs or conferences or speaking engagements, I used to be a teacher. I know. Petrifying. I taught 4th grade for three years and 1st grade for one. And then I had a bunch of babies and can’t remember the next six years.
I was a very average elementary teacher who totally loved my students. And also? Sincerely sorry about all that homework, 4th grade parents. I wasn’t a mother yet. I figured you had nothing to do but complete my exhaustive weekly social studies packets utilizing your children’s higher level thinking skills and research techniques, because what every ten-year-old needs is five hours a week of additional geography work. I’m certain now you wished me dead. Bless it. (Several students have contacted me and they are all I’m an accountant now and I’m like um, do you mean an accountant for your high school math team? and they’re like I’m almost 30 and I’m all these are lies.)
Though I’ve switched to the job I currently have, I will never forget my classroom years, and I have a few things I want to tell you, Teachers Everywhere.
First of all, I’ve calculated your earnings by adding your classroom hours, pre- and post-school hours, conferences and phone calls, weekend work, after-hours grading, professional development requirements, lesson planning, team meetings, extracurricular clubs and teams, parent correspondence, district level seminars, and material preparation, and I believe you make approximately 19 cents an hour.
And then people say, yeah but teachers get three months off for summer, and then we all clutch our guts and die laughing because WHATEVER, MAN. Like teachers leave on the last day of school and just show up on the first with a miraculously prepared classroom and a month’s worth of lesson plans. But seriously, thanks for the laugh.
The amount of work and energy you pour into your work and our children is so astonishing, it is a crime that you don’t all make 150K a year. Since you couldn’t possibly do it for the money, we can only assume you love your job and love our kids. Can you understand how much we appreciate you?
You are doing far more than teaching our kids the building blocks of knowledge and learning; you are helping us raise our children. You provide a second environment in which they have to practice respect, obedience, teamwork, diligence. We tell them take initiative on your work and they are like this house is a drag, and then they come home from school and say I’m starting this project early because Mrs. Pulis says to take initiative, and we wonder if you have magic powers or if our children are just willfully obtuse. The answer is…yes.
That high standard you set for our kids? We freaking love it. Thank you. Thank you for insisting on kindness and respect, excellence and persistence. Thank you for sometimes saying, “This is junky work and you can do better. See you at recess.” BOOM. All day long, teachers. We stand behind you. Thanks for requiring their best.
And let me tell you something else: I’ve always had kids who mostly eased through school, but now I have two English-as-a-Second-Language kiddos and my heart for you has grown forty sizes bigger. My littles went to school with virtually no English, and I am telling you: we wouldn’t have made it through that first year without you, and I know what it cost. I can’t count how many papers came home with this stamp:
Don’t imagine I don’t know exactly what that means. Teachers, when you instruct our kids that struggle or have special needs, I know you have, yet again, patiently pulled up a seat next to their desks, 24 other kids still in the room, and kindly helped them toward mastery. I know you modify, adapt, adjust for their success, which takes so much time and energy. Children with emotional or physical challenges, kids with language barriers and personal turmoil, those who struggle to learn and retain, test and succeed, they require so much of you in the midst of your regular responsibilities, and your patient attentiveness cannot possibly be overcelebrated. As a mom whose children blossomed under the weight of your investment, I could throw myself at your feet and weep with gratitude.
It’s one thing to have parents who sort of have to love you; it’s another to have a teacher affirm your goodness all year long. You know our kids come home and repeat every kind word you deliver, right? I close my eyes and thank God that another safe adult is building health into my children, especially since two of my kids have been subjected to such unsafe grown-ups. Your consistent presence is deeply healing for so many hurt kids. Your words are life-giving.
That is a LOT of daily affirmation. I feel exhausted just looking at this.
We know your task is incredibly difficult. Be creative and innovative…but also teach to this test, which by the way, your pay and security depends on. Challenge your gifted kids…aaaand modify for those with developmental delays. Keep all those parents happy! (<--- This alone should double your salary.) Use this new model, no this new one, now this new one. Surprise! We changed the entire district database. Please forfeit your Saturday for training. Stay on top of classroom communication. Attend all ARD/IEP/ESL evaluations for your students.
RELATED: Worst End of School Year Mom Ever
And oh, you do so much more. Serve on this additional committee. Volunteer to sponsor the Junior Class. Guess what you’re doing this weekend? Prom chaperone. You lead Destination Imagination Teams; it only takes 100 hours of your life. You coach, lead, sponsor, direct. You put on plays and programs, award ceremonies and graduations. You come early and stay late for the students who couldn’t get it, didn’t finish it, need your one-on-one help. You wear bandanas and paint your faces for Field Day. You are rock stars.
Administrators, we see and love you too. When you sat down with me holding your legal pads and pens, ready to learn how to care best for my incoming Ethiopians, and you wrote down every word I said and agreed to counter-intuitive requests like please don’t hold their hands at first and please don’t let them over-attach to you, you nodded and simply said…absolutely. I will never forget that. You are for us, for our kids, for our families, for our teachers, and we adore you.
You are amazing, Teachers and Administrators. From the bottom of my heart, I want you to hear it:
You are so loved, so important. Your work impacts kids for the rest of their lives. I am 42-years-old and still talking about Mrs. Palmer, Mr. Stranathan, Mrs. Thomas, Dr. Russell, Dr. Lyles. You don’t get the credit you deserve, so I am standing up today, applauding you, cherishing your investment in the next generation, in my kids. I see the incredible amount of work you do, and I am forever grateful. You are heroes; there is no lesser designation.
Please remember when you are grading papers at 10:30 on Sunday night, or pinning another incredible idea to your Teacher Board, or writing our kids another encouraging note, or throwing a party because they survived the latest standardized test, we see you, we appreciate you, and we freaking love you.
Your life matters so much and your legacy will go on long after you’re done teaching. You are sending out visionaries, thinkers, activists, and leaders into the world, and we owe you a debt of gratitude that we can never repay.
With Teacher Appreciation Week approaching, we say thank you and we honor you.
This essay originally ran on TODAY on April 26, 2017. Jen Hatmaker's latest book, "Fierce Free and Full of Fire," is available now.