What Teachers Want You to Know on National Teachers Appreciation Day

teacher standing in front of a chalkboard and smiling at her students

I had several stand-out high school teachers, but a 7th grade teacher comes to mind when I think about undercover influence: Mrs. Wells. She invited me to join her after school one day a week with a handful of other seventh graders.

I didn’t understand the significance of this invitation. I just knew that she talked about the craft of writing, gave us time to create, and then read what we wrote out loud, followed by discussion. Oh, and there were cookies. And since I loved to write, why not stay after school instead of going home to wrestle with my brothers?

At the end of the course, Mrs. Wells presented each of us with a small hard-bound book, Snowbound, by John Greenleaf Whittier. On the first page of my book, she wrote: “Your style in writing is on its way to promising developments.”      

As a 12-year-old, I didn’t fully appreciate the privilege of having an adult in my life who saw early potential, but my 7th grade teacher’s influence has followed me to this day.

Henry Brooks Adams said “Teachers affect eternity; no one can tell where their influence stops.”

National Teachers Appreciation Day: Challenges and Rewards as an Educator

With National Teachers Appreciation Day approaching, I questioned 11 educators from grade school through college. I wanted to know what they found the most challenging and the most rewarding, and what made them feel appreciated.


There definitely are challenges when it comes to teaching, training, and coaching. But these aren’t wimpy people. These educators are creative, kind, and selfless.

Behavior and loss of respect

Two special education teachers—one at the elementary grade level and one in high school—indicated that the most challenging aspect of their work is knowing how to deal with big behavior. When the high school teacher’s son was identified with special needs, she switched to teaching special ed.

“I was so impressed with his team that I wanted to be that support and advocate for other families who have children with disabilities,” she said. This teacher has been slapped, punched, kicked, bit, licked, had things thrown at her, and witnessed kids engaging in self-injurious behaviors. But behavior is a form of communication, she explained. “Decoding what they are trying to communicate and feeling helpless most of the time, all while trying to keep myself safe, is one of the biggest challenges of my job.”

“The disruptions from students’ inability to self-regulate is one of the biggest things I have to deal with,” said a high school biology teacher. An increasingly difficult problem before COVID-19, this teacher noticed that the pandemic accelerated students’ downward trend in social-emotional health. “It takes significant time out of our content lessons.”

A 2nd grade teacher who’s been teaching for 21 years is dismayed at the loss of respect. “There’s a lot more disrespect from students and parents, which was a shift I wasn’t quite prepared for.”

Finding balanceTeachers, We're Praying these Things for You

Three high school teachers spoke about the challenge of balancing time for reaching every kid with the extra required work—trainings, reports, communicating with parents, etc. “There was not enough time, ever,” said a social studies teacher and coach.

A 3rd grade teacher said making parents happy and making sure students were learning all the content they needed to move forward was the most difficult aspect of her work. “I started to give myself grace, understanding that I cannot change the world each year,” she said. “I can only do my best.”

A high school biology teacher had to learn to be realistic about balancing work and home life. “I had to be OK with things not always getting done. Sometimes that’s easier said than done, but this profession can suck the life out of you if you don’t set boundaries.”

“The most challenging aspect of my work by far was my inability to authentically share my faith freely,” reported a high school science and engineering teacher. “I had to stifle my beliefs even when confronted with ideals and events that were very contrary to what I believe.”


Despite the problems, these teachers—current and retired—love/d their work and their students. Just as there is a surplus of challenges, there are numerous rewards that come with impacting young people.

The “ah-ha” moments

“When a student who was struggling with a concept all of a sudden understands it—I call those ‘light-bulb moments,’” reported a high school teacher. Elementary, middle school, and high school teachers all agree about the “ah-ha” moments:

“It doesn’t matter how small, but when you can see progress—or even better, when the student can see progress—it’s the best feeling in the world.”

“I love watching figure out concepts they previously thought were too complicated.”

“I love to teach a subject and see the joy and excitement through the eyes of my students.”

“One hundred percent, it is so rewarding to see a child light up when they begin to understand a new concept. Their excitement is contagious and makes my heart so happy.”

A professor who has been teaching college chemistry for 20 years said, “I fell in love with teaching when I was in graduate school getting my Ph.D. in chemistry. I found that I had more fun teaching students in the lab than doing the awesome research.” The most rewarding aspect for him is watching students succeed and getting to celebrate with them.

Relationship building

The high school biology teacher said that the cliché—“Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”—really is true. “When students feel comfortable enough to be in my classroom just to hang out during non-academic times after school and lunch, I know I’ve created a safe place for them.”

“My favorite moments were when students came back after finishing my class(es),” another high school teacher said. “They told me how much of an impact the difficult curriculum had on them, whether it helped prepare them for college courses or trained their brains to think like engineers and solve problems.”

Part of the support team

A 1st grade teacher took a break when she and her husband started having children. After their youngest was in school full-time, she did substitute work, earned her teaching license again, and became certified as a librarian—serving the school, the district, and eventually the region. Ten of Oregon’s 36 counties are considered frontier, defined as any county with six or fewer people per square mile, and the new regional librarian position supported schools from those areas.

This year, she coordinated a conference for library staff in all the schools in the far-flung education service district. Afterwards, survey feedback endorsed her efforts. “They felt seen. They appreciated just being able to meet with others in similar situations.”

Her work supporting rural and frontier library staff enhances the teaching in those counties where students benefit from inspired and well-equipped teachers and librarians.


Interestingly, these teachers didn’t necessarily want gifts of appreciation (although the college professor said he feels most appreciated “when students thank me, especially with baked treats”).

To a person, each educator valued receiving recognition for their work—whether from the student, the parents, or the administrators:

“ … when parents let me know that they are grateful and excited about their student’s progress.”

“… when parents get involved with volunteer work, communication, or support in different ways—just basic kindness.”

“ … when my co-workers recognize what I do and how hard I work.”

“ … when administrators express gratitude and understanding of how invested I am in the lives and education of my students.”

“ … when people talk about the value teachers have had in their lives. I feel empowered and encouraged that I am making a difference in this world.”

Encouraging the leaders

An administrator feels he did a better job of showing appreciation for the leaders under his supervision later in his career. “Leaders are asked to encourage and support people on their staff, but they don’t receive a lot of encouragement themselves.” So, this administrator set out to change that with a few creative ideas:

He took pictures of the principals he supported and shared the photos in a weekly blog. He then sent the photo, along with a note, to the parents of his principals: Here’s your son/daughter in their setting … and here’s what I like about working with them.

He located the phone numbers of his leaders’ close family members and called to say what he appreciated about them as a person and a leader.

Once, there was a little snafu with a phone call to a set of parents in New Jersey. The woman who answered the phone demanded to know who was calling. The administrator told her who he was, and she hung up.

Later, the principal asked the administrator, “Did you call my mom?”

“I did and she hung up on me.”

“She didn’t believe you were who you said you were.” They had a good laugh, and the administrator called the principal’s mother back. This time, she didn’t hang up on him.

This same administrator admitted, “I feel most appreciated when I receive a random, unexpected communication (verbal, written) saying that something specific I’ve done was appreciated or valued.”

Which goes to show that leaders—whose jobs include encouraging their people—need appreciation themselves.

The power of words

One of the high school teachers collected encouraging notes through the 24 years of his career. “I kept a file for those days when I had the reverse Midas touch.”

“Handwritten notes from current and former students and their families are one of my favorite things,” reported a 3rd grade teacher. The cards she’s received through the years are in a memory box for the days that are particularly hard, which goes to show that our words are powerful.

There’s an ancient proverb that goes like this: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” – Proverbs 18:21

We have the capacity to speak discouragement or hope into people’s lives. Our words—whether they’re verbal or written—can make the day, the week, the year for a teacher, a librarian, or an administrator.

Here’s the thing we forget: Speaking or writing appreciation costs a small amount of time and creativity. But its returns are invaluable—enough that teachers may keep your words in a memory box for many years to come.

Helen Caldicott, Austrian physician, said: “Teachers, I believe, are the most responsible and important members of society because their professional efforts affect the fate of the earth.”

Not just a job

For some of these educators, their work doesn’t always feel like work. An elementary school teacher loves creating room transformations and field trips to make learning engaging. “It is so fun to see my students get excited… and how little it felt like work.”

“Teachers affect eternity; no one can tell where their influence stops.” —Henry Brooks Adams

A high school social studies teacher and coach viewed his work as a ministry opportunity. “My job was to become as much of a master as I could with the craft of my teaching, which gave me the credibility to speak into the margins of the lives of my students, players, and co-workers.”

One of the male educators built camaraderie in such a way that others saw Jesus in him. Most of his difference-making didn’t come while teaching a lesson but through the time he took to establish relationships. “Ask yourself, do you recall what a teacher taught you academically, or do you remember how that teacher treated you and made you feel as a person?” he posed.

It’s not as late as you may think

Two of the teachers came late to the game. One had always wanted to teach, but her father encouraged her to be an engineer because she had a good math mind. She floundered for a while, doing design work in an engineering office. After starting a family and volunteering in her kids’ school, she knew she really did want to be a teacher. She went back to college and started teaching her first class at age 47.

The other woman had six kids, three of them adopted, when she was drawn to teaching. She saw a need for educators who understood neurodiverse kids. Also in her 40s, she went back to college to become a special education teacher.

It’s not as late as you may think. If you have the heart and interest and energy to chase down a dream, why not pursue what you were designed to do?

And while you’re thinking about it, why not speak or write your appreciation for the impact teachers and administrators have made on your life, or in the lives of your children?

The pandemic revealed the importance of community and supporting each other—teachers included! We encourage you to listen to this podcast episode to see how you can be that light for those around you: Why Your Life and Community Matters Right Now – 142

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