Each week I normally share ideas with you for lessons I use to teach my students. This week, however, while many of us are off for Thanksgiving, I'd like to share a lesson a former student of mine recently taught me about giving thanks.
Every day many of us likely say "thank you" dozens of times. Before school starts, I've thanked the barista who hands me my morning latte, the stranger who holds a door, the teacher who saves my spot in line at the copier. Those thank yous, the embodiment of good manners, are the polite social norms we teach our children and reinforce with our students. They're something most of us do without thinking.
One morning about a month ago, I was surprised to open my email and see the name of a student I’d taught nearly a decade earlier. All these years later she said she needed to thank me for what I’d taught her, and she realized that thanks was overdue. Here is a portion from Courtney's email:
I am sure that you cannot remember me. It has been almost seven years since I visited Leonard and probably almost eight since our last conversation. Regardless, I am still Courtney Guc, 3rd grader of 2003–2004, and blessed to have been your student. I am sending in college applications (note: I am scared out of my mind) and want to, need to, rather, take five minutes out of my day to thank the woman who taught me proper reading strategies, the mathematical difference between rays and lines (Buzz Lightyear reference is still going strong), and how lima beans and friends make the world go around. You are a part of the educational foundation that made my primary school journey fun and worthwhile. Teachers like you are the reason that kids like me are inspired to be better than the norm. Mrs. Connell, you are the reason I strive to be excellent. The skills I learned in elementary school, your class in particular, made me a stronger communicator, leader, and student.
This email is years too late. I should have thanked you every year from my third grade graduation. But it has taken me years to figure out that I am not nearly as gracious as I should be. I am so sorry.
She closes with:
Thank you for being you,
P.S. I have attached an old picture and a new picture for reference. Kim Pius and I are still best friends.
I'm sure when Courtney wrote that email one morning before school, she had no idea the impact it would have on me. Courtney’s words exemplify the way that countless students feel about their teachers. The difference is, she let me know. Not only was I touched by her kind words, but I was reminded of the importance of gratitude in our lives.
Shortly after reading Courtney's email, I made a list of all the people who have guided me, taught me life lessons, helped me get where I am today, or been there for me when I needed them. One by one I’m going through that list, making a conscious effort to do exactly what Courtney did for me: take time out of my crazy-busy, over-scheduled life to give them thanks. They deserve it, and they should have heard it long ago from me. Make your list today.
A few years back I won a Teacher of the Year award. As amazing as that felt, I realized I didn't win it alone. I wrote many thank you notes back then, but I also wanted to personally thank the amazing woman under whose tutelage I did my student teaching. Thank you, Gerri Reiff of Burns Park Elementary in Ann Arbor. I wish I hadn’t waited to tell you about the difference you made in my teaching all those years ago. Call or write a mentor today.
The one person most responsible for shaping the person, the teacher, and the mom I am is my own mother. I try to emulate her in every way, from how I treat my own children and the children in my class to the ridiculously large Thanksgiving feast I've cooked the past 17 years for my entire extended family. Just like Mom did. I try to make the mundane fun and special at home and in my classroom. Just like Mom did. Sometimes I forget to sugarcoat the truth. Just like Mom did. After Courtney's note, I wrote my mom a three-page thank you note expressing my love and gratitude, a note she'll never read. I hope she knows. My mom passed away when I was 20, and I wish I had had all the wisdom and graciousness back then that Courtney has now at 17. Don't wait to say thank you.
I plan to share these same lessons with my students and, of course, with my own children, to hopefully impress upon them the importance of gratitude in our daily lives. Thank you can never be said too soon nor too often. Sometimes the best lessons we can teach, or that are taught to us, are those that will never appear on a standardized test. Thank you, Courtney, for reminding me to take time for thankfulness. You are a very special young lady who deserves my gratitude, and I wish you the very best in your bright, bright future.