Monday, January 28, 2013

A Note of Appreciation -The Ultimate Gift

My first morning of a new school year, in my first job as a qualified teacher, is a day I will never forget. 

As I was plastering the pin-boards with encouraging posters, a parent stood looming in the doorway. I don't remember the whole conversation but her final sentence is permanently etched in my memory. Having told me that she was a member of the school board and that her daughter Naomi would be in my class, she concluded sternly…

"I have been known to make teachers cry. So let that be a warning to you!"

I also recollect that I pulled myself up to my full five feet and at the grand old age of 22 replied, 

"Well I am sure you will have no need to make me cry."

 I have no idea where that strength or audacity came from, but as soon as she left, I realized that my body that had had a fluttering heart when the conversation began, was in full  pneumatic drill motion after she left.

 During that first term of teaching, I waged war. Each day was a new battle, with students who called out, did not say please and thank you, were hard to control in the corridors and even though they were only 8, knew that many of their parents, who had built the school brick by brick, could eat me for breakfast. 

I cannot pinpoint the sea change, only that slowly but surely, the eight year olds and I were becoming a team. They learned that I would not call on them if they called out. They understood that manners were important and that sloppy work was something I didn't accept. I hoped that my enthusiasm and creativity on the job made up for my lack of experience.  

Gradually I began to understand each child and they began to understand me!  

At some point in the middle of the school year my theme was "Fire" and the students made firetrucks from  mathematical nets, learned about the Chicago fire, and practiced their still life drawing skills by drawing "things that can burn." 

Now you will recall Naomi, with the Dragon mother. On the outside she appeared sullen and stubborn, but underneath I sensed she lacked self esteem and was very unhappy. However something about drawing this still life caught her attention. She surprised herself by reproducing a bleach bottle so realistically that I saw her wide, beautiful smile for the first time. This was a turning point for Naomi, in terms of her confidence and her willingness to step out of her comfort zone. She went on to write some beautiful poetry and produce work in which she could take great pride......

And as for her mother?

 I didn't hear from her.

 Not a peep  or a roar, all year long. 

Until the last day of school, when Naomi bought me an envelope. 

Inside were two hand written thank you notes. One from Naomi and one from her mother. As you can tell I have not forgotten this mother's first conversation with me. But I have also treasured the messages of appreciation at the end of the school year. I still have them to this day. 

Since that time, some of the most precious and unexpected gifts that I have received as a teacher and in other roles, have been the letters, messages, emails, tweets and texts, people have sent me. These have often arrived long after the events they are relating to and often I had no idea that I was having any impact at all. Those kind, thoughtful, generous words are the ones I have kept. They are the feedback that, while not expected, has made my actions all the sweeter. 

Fast forward 24 years and I have spent the morning with a friend, preparing for the teacher appreciation lunch, given by school parents for their seniors and school staff to attend.  This is a chance for the students and parents to express appreciation for the myriad of things the staff have done for them, many actions above and beyond their job description. It is also a way to reenforce for our children the importance of giving positive and meaningful feedback to the people who have impacted their lives in big and small ways.

As a teacher, blogger, friend, parent and spouse there is nothing more meaningful or encouraging to receive than a few thoughtful words to let me know I've made a difference.

We all lead busy lives, crossing paths with many people who help us. The ultimate way we can show appreciation for these gifts, is to take a few minutes of our valuable time to let them know how much we appreciate what they have done for us.(And it is never too late to write that note.)

Who will you appreciate today?

Thank you for all your feedback. I keep every positive message. :-)


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  1. Thank you Gilly for sharing your memoir as a teacher here. I feel you because I myself is also a teacher. I know I am still in the middle of my teaching journey but yeah simple notes from our dear students somehow give us joy to carry on despite the challenges we encounter in our day to day teaching life. It also reminds us how AWESOME we are that at some point we are touching their lives in our unique ways. Cheers to us teachers!!!

    1. Hi Maria Ana,
      Yes those notes of appreciation remind us, why we chose that job in the first place. But so does the knowledge that a child understood something that was challenging as does the opportunity to watch a student grow in confidence, in your care! All these things help, when there are tough days.

  2. .... and as for Naomi's mom? yeah I dont know why some parents are so defensive. It could be because they might have terrible experience from previous teachers or could be they are just bully parents who get satisfaction from scaring the bones out of hardworking teachers. We can understand that you are too concerned and less trusting but you know we can express our expectations in a nice and much better way right?

    1. Yes, there are always reasons why people behave badly and the only way to rise above them is to behave impeccably in return. Tough though!

  3. Thank you for a poignant reminder of how important it is to be appreciative.
    As a graduate student, teaching afternoon religious school to support myself, I once brought my class to the Jewish Museum in NY. The guide was extraordinary and I offered her heartfelt thanks for sharing so much with our students. Then I forgot the experience. A year later I returned with a new class to the museum. The museum was packed with visitors, leaving little room even to move. Suddenly, a woman approached me who had been at the other side of the room. "I remember you," she said. It was the museum educator with whom I had learned the year earlier. We smiled at each other and I again thanked her for the fantastic learning experience the year before. I often think of her in striving to remember to be grateful. A full year later she remembered, recognized, and came to let me know.
    You have inspired me to thank a teacher!

    1. Shira -That's a great story and a reminder that a small thank you can mean a great deal. I wonder how many people actually stop to thank the guide and give her feedback? Yet it is an easy and quick thing to do. We all thrive on genuine feedback, but somehow people are programmed to speak up, mostly when they are dissatisfied and remain quiet when they are happy with a situation....Do you think that's true?
      Many thanks for reading and commenting ( and retweeting!)


  4. Thank you, Gilly! You are always so inspiring, calming and insightful! I so love every single tweet, and every single post.

    I am going to appreciate my kids just a bit more today. I am going to spend more time holding them and loving them. I am also going to tell my husband how much I appreciate him and everything he does for us. He's crazy, but he is as stable as a rock - never wavering.

    1. Lisa -You made my day with your comment. Thank you!
      Those "rock" spouses are precious! I'm sure your family will love your hugs and comments today and give you some in return. Sounds like you are a great Mom.They are lucky to have you.
      Thanks for visiting Brainstorm again.

    2. hi Lisa, I so agree with you. Everytime I come by Gilly's site I feel the same. Gilly I would like to thank you again for sharing wonderful posts. They are so worth reading and sharing. It gives us readers a time to reflect, be encouraged, be hopeful and positive. Cheers!

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  6. Loved this Gilly - as I do all your articles. Took me back to Chicago - when we were on "shaliachut" (tourism) from 1984 - 1986. There was no intention of my "working" outside the home, but I finished up working two jobs (outside home). My day job was Assistant to Director of Education at a prominent "temple" on Chicago's North Shore. In the evenings, I taught 45 Bar & Bat Mitzvah students their "parsha"! I'd never done this before....being an Educator doesn't normally enter a journalism remit! However, I taught myself the "trope" and loved the one-on-one tutoring. What I'm leading up to is the fact that their "thank-you" letters are some of my most treasured possessions!......"thank you so much"; "could not have done my Bar Mitzvah without you"; "you are inspiring"...etc.......It was not easy sometimes - particularly with two or three "special needs" children but, oh, so very rewarding.
    By the way, on return to Israel, I started teaching English - as well as writing - and as an Examiner, have examined more than 3000 students for Oral Engish Bagrut in schools throughout the Sharon region!
    Hope Benjy's making excellent progress. I have not forgotten about Grandpa Benky & Zionism, by the way....(have 'flu & tonsillitis right now).
    If you've time when next you come to Israel, try to visit the new exhibit at the Herzl Museum: it is phenomenal!
    Much love,

    1. Wow you really went on a steep learning curve in Chicago and a very successful one. I'm glad you felt appreciated. There is something very special about receiving a thank you that recognizes and appreciates the great effort and love you have put into your job.
      I hope you feel better soon. Benjy has one more week with his sling and then intense physical therapy. He has handled the whole experience very well.
      Thanks for commenting on the blog. It's great to hear from you.

  7. Isn't it amazing that memories of teachers remain with us throughout our lives. (whether good or bad memories) Now I know that memories of some pupils also remail with the teachers.

    Hope you are doing well,

    1. Liz you are right about the students. There are some I can conjure up in my mind perfectly, for all kinds of reasons, even though i may have taught them over 20 years ago.
      Glad to hear from you.

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