This blog is crossposted from LinkedIn.
This week, our nation recognizes and honors you for your tireless efforts on behalf of our students, everywhere from small towns and suburbs, to rural communities and Tribal lands, to big cities. Teachers have one of the most challenging and fulfilling jobs—literally shaping and changing lives. Especially during Teacher Appreciation Week, we celebrate and thank you for the vital role that you play in supporting students and strengthening the future of our nation.
Long hours and hard work go into designing challenging lessons, guiding students through their learning, providing feedback to students, engaging with parents and families, collaborating with colleagues, reflecting on your instruction, staying abreast of research and changes in content and pedagogy, and leading in your schools.
But much of the work you do also is about the intangible—it’s about fostering that almost indescribable, and yet unmistakable, spark between you and your students.
It’s there when you see the potential in every student who walks through your door, even when he may not yet recognize his own gifts. It’s there when you notice and attend to the child quietly sitting in your class, hoping no one will notice that her world has fallen apart at home. It’s there when you offer a listening ear and assistance to the student who has no place to call home, who lacks a support system beyond the schoolyard, or who simply hasn’t found her way yet. It’s there when you feed the child who is hungry, when you check in on the student who has missed school, and when you build your classroom into a safe community that is full of the wonder and joy of learning. You recognize that every child has a unique set of skills and talents to share with the world and you strive to help each of them engage in real, rigorous, and relevant learning that can set them on a path to realizing their potential. You do whatever it takes to be champions of our students and to prepare them for the incredible opportunities and achievements you know lie ahead—if we can provide them with a world-class education.
Each day in your classrooms, you work to ensure ALL of your students make progress toward their growth and mastery goals. Some results of that work are immediate—the look in a child’s eye when she has an “a-ha” moment and grasps a concept, the interest a student shows in his science fair project, or the scholarship a student earns because of a prize-winning essay.
But, a great deal of what you do also is having a much more long-term effect, in ways that may not be apparent right away.
You are helping to empower students with the strong character traits that they will use in their daily decision making. You are inspiring life-long learners, equipping citizens to participate more fully in our democracy, and, most importantly, you are giving students the freedom to choose—making it possible for them to have limitless options for their life paths and careers.
Teaching is the profession that launches every career. Thank you for sharing with your students your passion for world languages, music, literature, math, science, theater, history, and myriad other subjects. Thank you for empowering our youth and for furthering social justice by never being satisfied until every child has access to an excellent education. You are helping your students to develop an appreciation for a diverse society and a desire to create a more just world. Thank you for doing this vital work without expectation for thanks; but know, too, that you deserve it, and that the Obama administration and I are invested in lifting up and honoring teaching. We understand that teacher voice is a crucial part of conversations that impact your classroom and your profession, and we are committed to ensuring you are supported so you can do your best work on behalf of our children every day. We believe strongly that teachers should have a voice in the policy decisions that affect you and your students.
For me, the importance of teachers is personal. My own teachers saved my life—I lost both of my parents by the time I was 12 years old, and it was New York City Public School teachers who provided me with the love, support, safety, and skills that laid the foundation for the many opportunities I’ve been fortunate to have throughout my career in education. Their positive impact inspired me to become a high school social studies teacher and a middle school principal, and those experiences inform my work each day as U.S. Secretary of Education.
I’m grateful for my own teachers, the Maryland public school educators who inspire my daughters daily, and all of you for doing this incredibly challenging, but vitally important work for our nation’s children. Thank you.
With immense gratitude,
John B. King, Jr.
John B. King Jr., is the Secretary of Education at the U.S. Department of Education.
In honor of teacher appreciation week, a long overdue letter:
Dear Mrs. Hamilton,
I write to you nearly 30 three years after sitting in your eighth grade English class at Emerson School. You likely have long since retired, and may not even remember me, but I remember you. In fact, right now I am looking at a book that you gave me in 1978. I keep this book on my desk and use it frequently because it reminds me of another even more important gift you gave me.
In the spring of 1978 you encouraged me to submit an essay in a school writing contest. The topic was "Libraries: For the People, by the People." At the time I wasn't very confident with the pen and a bit insecure about entering the competition. For some unknown reason you had faith in me and urged me to give it a go. I remember you telling me that writing was a skill which requires patience and practice, just like sports. But, while a basketball game ends and fades from memory, writing remains forever.
So I put down the basketball and picked up a pen and wrote the best essay I could, re-writing it several times. By some miracle I actually won that contest. I can't even remember what the prize was, but I do remember your beaming face when you came to share the news. To celebrate my success you gave me my first ever thesaurus. Honestly, I didn't even know what a thesaurus was at the time... which is why your inscription on the inside cover makes me smile to this day.
You wrote, "This thesaurus is not a prehistoric animal, but I hope it is a faithful companion during the next four years (in high school)."
I want you to know that this book, now worn with pages falling out, has remained my faithful companion for over three decades. I wouldn't dream of using any other thesaurus, online of offline, because yours is so special -- even magical. When I open it up I see you standing over my shoulder, pointing out how words fit together and how powerful they can become when infused with passion and purpose. I feel a renewed sense of wonder and curiosity just by turning the pages of that old book.
Well, despite your best efforts, I have to let you know that I never became a professional writer. As glorious as it was my essay victory did not propel me to a spot on the New York Times bestseller list. (I did meet Stephen King, himself a former English teacher, a couple of times however!).
But I still love to write, mostly just for writing's sake. I love the interplay of words and meaning, in fact, much more than I will ever love basketball.
I want to also let you know that I will do my best to teach an appreciation for writing to my own children, and I will be sure to encourage them the way that you encouraged me. I am not a teacher but thanks to you I know what good teaching is.
Thank you for the book and for making me feel so special. Thank you for caring enough to teach me why to write and not just how to write.
As much as I treasure it, even my thesaurus doesn't have enough words to describe my gratitude.
Paul Lamb (the gangly blue-eyed kid with wild hair in the front row to your right)
If you or your children want to show appreciation for important teachers you know during Teacher Appreciation Week (May 2-6) check out the following resources:
1. Random Acts of Kindness Foundation teacher appreciation ideas and inspiration
2. PTA Teacher Appreciation Week Events & Activities
3. Teacher Appreciation Info & Ideas website
Follow Paul Lamb on Twitter: www.twitter.com/plamb