Why Tennessee Teachers Inspire Me

An open letter to all educators by Cathy Whitehead, the 2016 Tennessee Teacher of the Year

Dear Teacher,

Next week, there will probably be stale crumbs of cupcakes left in the teacher’s lounge. You will find sweet cards from kids that were accidentally tucked into a stack of papers you just now have time to grade. There may be a slightly deflated balloon or two still hanging by a piece of curling ribbon and tape in the office. The memories of Teacher Appreciation Week will be just that . . . memories.

I love that we dedicate this week to appreciating teachers. I recognize that I am biased, but I mean, who better to appreciate? Teachers are the ones who make all other professions possible. Without teachers, there would be no nurses, no artists, no scientists or social workers. And worst of all, no future teachers. It is fitting and good that we take a week to say, “Thank you.”

2016-02-08-000615_24830390821_oBut here’s what I want you to know. As a fellow teacher and a mom, I see all that you do, and I truly appreciate you, every day of the year .

I see you when the year starts and your cart at the store is overflowing with supplies . . . some of them for other people’s kids. And then I see you pull out your wallet without so much as a sigh. I see you at school for hours on end, making sure that everything is just right for the new faces walking in for the very first time.  I see you that first morning, smile bright, knowing that you’re likely missing your own children’s first day drop offs to greet your new students, who will soon become “your kids,” too.

I see you in the fall, as the rhythm of the school year gets into full swing. I see you chaperoning field trips and school dances, working football concession stands and homecoming events, and I see your eyes light up and your arms open for a hug when you see students, current and former. I see you come to know your students – really know them – as only you will, and I watch them as they learn to love what you love. I see you come to school, congested with allergies, and still find the time and energy to plan lessons that are so incredible it makes me jealous of your students. I see you worry about a student who misses too much school, who is sick too much, who seems too sad.

img_8719_21421587825_o (1)I see you in the winter, quietly slipping a warm coat into a student’s locker. I see you wiping runny noses, locating missing gloves, and insisting­– for the third time– that, yes, coats do need to be zipped up before they head outside. I see you scheduling assessments and then taking hours to painstakingly grade essays that were just as painstakingly written. I see you attending countless basketball games, not because your child is playing, but because one of your students invited you to see them in their element. I see you waiting with a kid who missed the bus, as the afternoon light fades into early winter evening.

I see you in the spring, as spring fever and baseball season come into full swing at the same time. I see you grading papers while your child is at practice, one eye on her and one eye on your students’ work. I see you prepare for tests, programs, field days, and graduations, and I wonder how you do it. How you balance it all and make it look so easy. How you manage to get it all done – and done well. And, in May, I see your tears, as another group of kindergarteners, or second graders, or eighth graders, or seniors says goodbye.

img_9874_22280346684_oAnd, unbeknownst to many, I see you in the summer. I see you attending professional development, taking classes, going to workshops, working in graduate school. I see you designing new units and finding new books. And I see you laminating and copying and getting ready to do it all over again.

And so I want to say this.  For all the other days of the year, for all the days when no one stops with a word of thanks, you are appreciated; every single week of the year. There are many who see what you do and are so grateful for you. As I’ve traveled and met with people from all walks of life this year, the one thing that’s happened every time is when I tell people I’m a teacher. Their eyes light up, they smile, and the first words out of their mouths are, “Thank you. Thank you so much for what you do.”

So, from me to you, as a mom and as a teacher, from the very bottom of my heart:  Thank you.  Have a wonderful Teacher Appreciation Week, this week and every week.

And don’t forget to get a cupcake before they’re all gone.