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  • Heather McDorman

Beyond the Apple: Showing Gratitude to Our Educators

Three women gather for lunch and to reminisce.
I recently had lunch with my all-time favorite teacher Carol Speck Schmidt (left) and fellow high school BFF Pamela Warren (right).

Education, often described as the cornerstone of progress, rests upon the dedicated efforts of educators who tirelessly nurture the seeds of knowledge within their students. Beyond the textbooks and lessons, teachers are the unsung heroes who shape the minds and futures of countless individuals. As the school year begins, the time is right to shed light on the profound importance of appreciating teachers – both those from our past who paved the way and those in the present who continue to guide our students.

As an elementary school student, my family moved around quite a bit, so I attended four different primary schools. By the time I was in junior high, we had settled down in Spanish Lake, Mo., and finished out both junior high and high school in the Hazelwood School District. (Go, Hazelwood East Spartans!) Despite my family’s many moves, I loved school and many of my teachers. Not only was I grateful for their teaching, but I was also thankful for their efforts in helping the “new girl” fit in. Teachers were very important in my life. But no teacher was more important to me than my high school journalism teacher, Carol Speck Schmidt.

Ms. Schmidt, as we called her, loved the subject matter she was teaching, and it showed. She always had a smile on her face, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t a serious teacher. I learned just about as much about journalism from her as I did during my four years as a mass comm major in college (and that’s not an insult to the faculty at Truman State University) – it’s just that Ms. Schmidt was that good. Really. She nurtured our talents, took an interest in us, cheered us on, and pushed us to be the best we could be.

Acknowledging the Pillars of Our Past

Reflecting on our educational journey, many of us can fondly recall the teachers who left an indelible mark on our lives – like Ms. Schmidt did for me. These mentors, whose influence extends beyond classroom walls, play an instrumental role in shaping our values, beliefs, and aspirations.

It may have taken me a few years after high school to realize it and to feel the gratitude I now feel for Ms. Schmidt’s dedication to her subject matter. For decades, we have kept up with each other through newsy Christmas card exchanges, and there has been an occasional get together with fellow Spartan alums – most recently this summer (see photo above). It was at that lunch with Ms. Schmidt that I pondered the value and importance of expressing gratitude to our educators and what the impact that gratitude can have on those who teach us.

Beyond our personal experiences, history offers a rich tapestry of educators who have left an indelible mark. Think of figures like Confucius, Socrates, and Maria Montessori – each of them revolutionized education and laid the foundation for modern pedagogy. Their commitment to nurturing young minds paved the way for the holistic approach to education that we value today.

The Modern Classroom: A Haven for Growth

In today's rapidly evolving world, teachers continue to play an essential role in molding the leaders of tomorrow. They are not just conveyors of facts; they are mentors, guides, and catalysts for growth. In an era where information is readily accessible, teachers empower students to discern and analyze, fostering critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

For my son, Liam, it was his high school assistant marching band director who made an indelible impression on him. Liam played the tuba/sousaphone in concert and marching band, and Mr. Henry Kappler worked with the low brass musicians. Near the end of Liam’s junior year, he learned that Mr. Kappler would be moving at the end of the year. Liam wanted to do something special for him – to let him know how much he appreciated him. Liam’s appreciation took a unique form – he tried out for the end-of-school year talent show. He honored Mr. Kappler by rewriting the words to the tune I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) by The Proclaimers – extoling the effort Mr. Kappler took in working with the marching band. Liam was brave enough to play an acoustic guitar and sing solo his customized lyrics. I was so impressed he put himself out there like that (and, of course, I videotaped “I’m Gonna B Flat”).

The Ripple Effect of Appreciation

Appreciation, a simple yet profound gesture, holds the power to transform the dynamics of the classroom. When students express gratitude for their teachers' efforts, they not only boost teacher morale but also create a positive atmosphere conducive to learning. A heartfelt thank-you note, a small gift, or a sincere compliment can brighten a teacher's day and strengthen the teacher-student bond.

On the flip side, teachers who feel appreciated are more likely to go the extra mile to ensure their students' success. This symbiotic relationship fosters an environment where knowledge flourishes, and students thrive. Ms. Schmidt was fortunate to experience a student early in her career who demonstrated his appreciation for her teaching.

“In my very first journalism class at Jennings High School, I had a student named Renny who loved learning everything I taught.  I always knew he was listening by his facial expressions and eye contact. He was bright, intelligent, friendly, pleasant, and hard-working. He became one of my editors,” she said. “To this day, I get a Christmas card from Renny every single Christmas. Right after college, he moved to Texas, and he now is retired and has two adult daughters and quite a few grandchildren.  He sends me a photo of his family every year.”

Cultivating a Culture of Appreciation

The journey of teacher appreciation doesn't solely rest on the shoulders of students – it's a collaborative effort that involves parents, school administrations, and communities at large. When parents actively engage with teachers, they communicate that education is a shared responsibility. By attending parent-teacher conferences, volunteering, and participating in school events, parents acknowledge the pivotal role teachers play in their children's lives.

Teacher getting high-fives from his students.

Communities, too, have a role to play. Recognizing teachers through local initiatives and awards not only boosts their morale but also highlights their significance within the community. When teachers feel valued beyond the classroom, their passion and dedication ripple outward, benefiting the entire society.

Looking Forward: Nurturing the Future of Education

Imagine a world where the cycle of appreciation continues to shape the future of education. As today's students grow into tomorrow's leaders, they carry forward the lessons learned from their teachers. The impact of nurturing a culture of gratitude extends far beyond the classroom – it shapes individuals who value knowledge, kindness, and collaboration.

Encouraging students to consider careers in education can be a transformative outcome of teacher appreciation. When students witness the profound influence their teachers have on their lives, they may be inspired to pay it forward. The prospect of becoming mentors themselves, guiding the next generation, becomes an enticing and meaningful path.

Working in higher education for 32 years at St. Charles Community College, I had the privilege to witness the talents of loads of dedicated professors across many disciplines. One such professor is Dr. Monica Hall-Woods, professor of biology. I wrote about Dr. Hall-Woods on multiple occasions as a member of the marketing team, and two things were always clear to me – she loved her subject matter, and the students loved her. They were never more appreciative of her than during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When the pandemic hit and we had to switch to online teaching, I was really worried about my students,” she said. “I decided to take a light-hearted approach for our weekly WebEx meetings by pairing a costume with a background. Each week, I was dressed as a different character, so the students never knew what was happening. It definitely kept my attendance up and my students engaged. We were all in it together, and it gave us all some levity during a really scary time. There were two newspaper articles written about my escapades, and I had students who wanted to be interviewed about the impact this had on them.  It was so humbling to understand how much my crazy antics helped.”

Students of Dr. Monica Hall-Woods were grateful when she brought some humor to the challenges of teaching only online during the pandemic. She showed up to each session as a new character to teach each of her online biology classes (click the right-hand arrow to see all of her characters).

In the grand tapestry of education, teachers are the weavers, carefully intertwining threads of knowledge, wisdom, and inspiration. Their impact extends beyond facts and figures; it shapes our identities, beliefs, and aspirations. By appreciating teachers – both those who have shaped our past and those who guide our present – we recognize their immeasurable contributions to society.

As we reflect on our own educational journey, why not take a moment to express gratitude to the teachers who have illuminated our path. And remember that the act of appreciation need not be grand; a simple acknowledgment of their efforts can have a profound effect. Together, as students, parents, communities, and educators, we can nurture a culture of appreciation that enriches lives and cultivates a brighter future for all. (My blog partner Jodi shares this idea … “One way I let teachers know that I appreciate what they are doing is to donate supplies to them and their students -- either through their Amazon wish lists or donation sites like”)

Tell us about an educator who made a difference in your life!

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Aug 27, 2023

Love this article! Teachers are some of the most important people in the world -- and they should be paid commensurately. Ms. Schmidt is THE reason I work as a writer. (Feeling massive amounts of guilt for not having having been in touch with her for a while. 😬 If you happen to be reading this, Carol, know that one of these days you'll hear from me again. You're simply the best! 🙏❤️)


Aug 25, 2023

Hands down, my most influential teacher was Mrs. Duchek <3 She was demanding, wry, and no-nonsense. I learned sentence diagramming, grammar, punctuation, essay format, research writing, and first-year Latin with her. I did my best to carry on her legacy into my own ELA/French classroom until my own retirement from the profession in May, 2012. And, one more concrete way to show appreciation to teachers is to fund schools fully (whether public or private) so that teachers can receive a livable wage. That their wages would be commensurate with other similarly educated professionals would be even better.

Heather McDorman
Heather McDorman
Aug 25, 2023
Replying to

Thank you for this. Great memories of your teacher. And full funding and a much better wage is the least we can do … *agree*.

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