One of my favorite books is Gary Chapman's Five Love Languages. The truths of this book have guided me in relationships and in ministry. Chapman's premise is that individuals give and receive love in different ways; that is, we speak different languages when it comes to communicating love. Chapman has identified five love languages: Gifts, Physical Touch, Quality Time, Acts of Service, and Words of Affirmation. This week is Teacher Appreciation Week and it occurs to me that Chapman's book offers insight that might help us encourage our teachers.
Gifts. Chapman makes it clear that the cost of the gift is not the issue. A person whose love languages is gifts, feels just as beloved when the gift is a picture drawn by a child as she does when it is a pricey trinket. The point is to have something tangible. Teachers might enjoy gift cards to a nearby restaurant, items for their classrooms such as school or office supplies, or personal remembrances like flowers or photographs.
Physical Touch. Often, when people hear this one, they think Chapman is referring only to intimate affection. Not true. Those who understand love best through physical touch, appreciate hugs and pats on the back, facials and massages. So, some teachers might really appreciate like a gift certificate for a manicure, pedicure, facial, or massage. Manicures are not terribly expensive and are a real treat for some people. (Do remember to cover the tip in your gift though so that the teacher doesn't have to pay out-of-pocket in order to receive your gift.)
Quality Time. The important aspect of this love languages is presence. I've heard teachers express deep gratitude to those who support their work simply by being present. Is there a teacher in your life who you might visit this week? You could volunteer to read to students, or maybe you could attend a school program or club event. Teachers give so much time to our students, it can be a real blessing when others give a little of their personal time to be a part of the teacher's world for a bit. If you can invest the time, you will be communicating to these educators that what they are doing makes a difference.
Acts of Service. In this case, the languages Quality Time and Acts of Service are closely related. For some teachers, your presence alone will be encouraging. Others will feel even more blessed if you offer to help them with some of the endless task required of them. This teacher might be happy to leave you in the classroom right by yourself with a necessary task such as grading papers, filing, tutoring, or something else. Teachers rarely have all the help they need. Volunteer your time and teachers whose love language is Quality Time will feel truly appreciated, loved even.
Words of Affirmation. This is the easiest for me to communicate because this is my own love language. I enjoy writing notes or emails, sending texts or messages to tell people I value them. I've also written notes on teachers' white boards and on post-it notes left on their desks. Additionally, I try always to comment on excellence, especially to school administrators. Consider encouraging students to write notes to their teachers. It's never too late: I've heard stories of teachers who received letters from people they taught years, if not decades earlier. These letters are treasures.
Whichever expression you choose, appreciate your local educators this week. And then do it again next week. And the next. Because really: one week couldn't possibly be enough to thank our teachers for all they do for humanity.
And teachers? Thanks. You totally rock!
Dear Mrs. Sorrells,
This isn’t the first time I’ve thanked you. You taught my oldest daughter in 2003 and my son in 2005; I told you then how much I appreciated your classroom expertise. But in the years since, I’ve come to value your teaching, and that of other Oakley Elementary educators, even more. It is with this clarity of hindsight that I offer you this note of thanksgiving.
Thank you for having a classroom that allowed for different abilities. You challenged bright students, coaxed strugglers, and guided distracted ones. You created space in your classroom for all kinds of learners. In so doing, you taught my children and others that though we are unique individuals, we can find common ground that can lead to community.
One way you demonstrated that was through music. You did that all on your own. You secured enough recorders for every student in the class and taught them to play as an ensemble. As they learned to play the instrument, they learned the value of commitment, perseverance, and excellence. (Music teaches so many things!) They also learned that together, they were better. What a valuable lesson to learn! Thank you.
Thank you for encouraging their strengths. I remember you having a little talent show at the end of the year just for your class. You clearly, genuinely wanted to see each child’s performance. In my memory, you are sitting on the edge of your seat, smiling though each number, and applauding the loudest at the end. As I remember it, you pointed out the positives of each performance. You weren’t offering vain praise, but rather you showed authentic interest and gave real compliments. As you did so, you taught your students that each person has gifts that are to be celebrated. Thank you.
As a volunteer in your class, I was so impressed with your superior teaching abilities: effective classroom management, enthusiastic and engaging lessons, and an unparalleled awareness of the needs of your students. Plus you had that unteachable quality: you obviously, unashamedly, truly loved the children entrusted to you. Thank you, Mrs. Sorrells, for loving my children and for loving so many others. You blessed them. You blessed me.
Once I mentioned to you about how awesome I thought you were. You thanked me then, but responded in writing the next day.
“Anything that happens in my classroom that is awesome is purely by the grace of God. God has given me a foundation of trust, love, and joy. I view the job itself as basically impossible. I do as well as I do solely by the grace of God. Each day is full of lots of miracles.
“Twice a week, at two different church services, I hear the following benediction:
‘The world is now too dangerous a place and too beautiful a place for anything but love. May God take your hands and your feet and work through them. May God take your minds and think through them, and may God take your hearts and set them on fire.’
I try to live these words.”
Indeed, your message of love was unmistakable. Thank you. Thank you for taking to heart the benediction you knew so well. You made a beautiful and lasting difference in the lives of my children and so many others. My heart overflows with gratitude.
I've recalled for you here seven of my favorite teachers, in chronological order. (Caveat: I can't pick a favorite from Gardner-Webb Divinity School. For one thing, I still have my Doctorate of Ministry left to do and I ain't crazy. But, I couldn't pick anyway. I love you all!)
1. Ms. Brown, 5th grade. In the 70's, as in every decade, North Carolina tried some stupid stuff in education. In my 3rd and 4th grade years, I was in open classrooms. I don't remember why that was a thing, nor do I really care. I just remember it was loud, distracting, and overwhelming (for me, anyway). In the 5th grade, I got to be in one classroom for the whole day with this one marvelous teacher who loved students and teaching. On what must have been the first day of class, she announced to her class full of mostly white kids, that her name was Mrs. Brown and if we forgot we could just remember that "Mrs. Brown is Brown." Brilliant! She got racism right on out of the way and beat a bunch of 10 year olds to the punchline. She was fabulous.
2. Ms. Highsmith, 6th grade. She's the teacher who said of me, to the class and on my report card, "Aileen has real heart. She sees students in need and cares for them." I didn't know I did that, or at least I thought everyone else did too. She pointed out a giftedness in me that I'd not realized myself. That's a good teacher right there.
3. Ms. Lewis, 7th grade. I was seriously bullied in 7th and 8th grade, but in Ms. Lewis' class, I forgot all about that. Language Arts! Books, language, words. I loved it, loved it, loved it. Plus, she was funny. (I realize now what an amazing gift of comedic timing she must have had for seventh graders to find her humorous!)
4. Ms. Delaney, 9th grade (I think). Mary Delaney, did not play when it came to English grammar. I've always loved grammar, and so I appreciated her zeal. She was also quite quirky, a fact that made her even more loveable. My best friend and I were so crazy about her, that at the end of the year, we took her to our favorite lunch place, our treat. (We had open lunch back then and could leave campus for that blessed hour.) It's to Ms. Delaney's infinite credit that she accepted our invitation, and went out to eat with those two geeky white kids.
5. Ms. Hayes, 10th grade. Ms. Hayes, sock footed, would not have been five feet tall. But at school, in her 3-4 inch heels, she was a giant. She taught history, but mainly she taught joy. I can still bring her laugh to mind, see her vibrant smile. She was an absolute delight. As a 15 feet year old dealing with all kinds of self-esteem issues, I found her energy invigorating. Because of her, school wasn't so bad.
6. Dr. Walter Barge, undergrad. Around 1984, Campbell University hired a new dean of the college of arts and sciences, Dr. Walter Barge. Dr. Barge was one of those deans who loved teaching so much that he straddled the administrator/faculty divide and did both. I had him for my senior seminar. He said of my writing, "You have a gift. Develop it." (Then he proceeded to mark up my papers so thoroughly that it was hard to see any evidence of said giftedness.) He was a man of integrity and honor. God rest his soul.
7. Dr. Diane Neal Kremm, grad school, round one. Dr. Kremm was flat out crazy about Southern history. When she taught, history rushed forward into the present, alive and relevant. I sat in her class enthralled, amazed, and inspired. It was invigorating. In her office, she had a portrait of John Brown. What's not to love?
Oh wait! There's one more. And she's my favorite teacher of all time. I was her first student, and she was my first teacher. She taught me to read in her makeshift classroom in the upstairs hallway. She stood at her blackboard easel wielding pastel colored chalk; I sat in a little red chair and propped an oversized book on my knees for a desk. So, yeah: my sister will always be my favorite teacher of all time. (She started her official career as an educator in 1985 and is teaching still.)
So thanks Dawn, for teaching me to read and, ya know, everything. And thanks to all educators who tirelessly bless the children of this world day after day. You absolutely--no question--make a difference.