When Teachers make a Difference: Teacher Appreciation Week

May 5, 2015 by

When Teachers make a Difference: Teacher Appreciation Week

In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, let’s flashback to 1996…

He was a roly-poly little guy with glasses and freckles. His blonde hair fell over his forehead and he would turn tomato-red if he was embarrassed. He had the most adorable dimples and he was my best friend…

When we were in 5th grade we were not the coolest kids in the class. We were ahead of our peers academically and far more mature, we played in the school band, we read a lot of books… we were the definition of nerd. I can’t remember if we both had braces yet by that point, he did, and if I didn’t I needed them. I had a mouthful of too many teeth, bangs that were always in my eyes and hair that could have been exposed to shampoo a little more regularly. I still wore outfits that my mom picked out for me, I had ever-increasing acne, and I was extremely, painfully quiet. The other kids picked on me about my sneakers, my lack of a boyfriend, and my Wal-Mart wardrobe…Tommy just sat next to me and did his homework, it was nice, it was comfortable, it was the beginning of a lasting relationship at the top of our class. We may not have been cool, and we may not have had many other buddies, but our developing sense of perfect sarcasm and enlarged vocabulary made us fast and forever friends.Teacher Appreciation Week

It was in this classroom that we discovered the meaning of friendship and also the idea that we were worthwhile. Not because our peers supported us or because we became instantly popular, but because in that classroom we had a teacher that made us feel like we were important.

It was in this classroom that we discovered the meaning of friendship Click To Tweet

Mrs. Cleveland talked to us like we were people, not like we were kids. She valued our opinions and listened to our stories. She was able to make the extra work and harder assignments in the upper level reading group seem like a privilege instead of a burden. She recommended us for the gifted and talented program and she championed our successes. She was able to allow us to come out of our shells and feel like we were special. She told the best stories. Mrs. Cleveland took the time to get to know us, to allow us to develop our sense of humor, and to chastise those who made fun of us.

Mrs. Cleveland asked me one day why there was such a correlation between smart kids being made fun of. “Why are smart kids so unpopular?” she asked. “You guys are smart enough to beat the system.” And so, we did.

Our station on the popularity spectrum gradually rose throughout high school. Tommy started running and was quite good on the track team, I held starring roles in the school plays and was mediocre at volleyball. The numbers of our classmates dwindled and we found ourselves in better places as we got older.

I haven’t become a millionaire, or cured cancer, or made Hollywood fame and I may never do anything supremely noteworthy. Mrs. Cleveland’s class didn’t lead me to become a doctor or a lawyer or a famous author…. But her kindness taught me about life far more than any text book could. Her attitude toward us in that room every day led me to be able to hold my head up high, dirty hair and all, and to be proud of my accomplishments, no matter how small. It takes someone pretty special to take a couple of quiet, awkward pre-teens and give them the confidence they need to become pretty cool, successful adults. It is because I once had a teacher who believed in me, that I am who I am today, and that has made all the difference.It takes someone pretty special to take a couple of quiet, awkward pre-teens and give them the… Click To Tweet

Tommy went on to travel the world, teach in Japan and graduate from Harvard. He’s still a wonderful friend, who loves God and married a beautiful girl who embodies kindness.When teachers make a difference: Junior Prom

The long and windy path of life has led me to a Master’s degree in Education and dual high school teaching certification in several states. I’ve traveled a bunch, served with AmeriCorps, and finally feel comfortable in my own skin. I now sit in my own classroom sometimes looking at the awkward 7th graders in the seats and wonder who they will become and what piece of me they will take with them.

I hope someday, when they are in their 30’s they can look back and know that in this moment they are loved, they are liked and they maybe even are a little bit cooler than they think they are.


  1. This brought tears to my eyes! I will share on G+. Thank you for posting such a beautiful testament to your teacher. I hope she can read it someday. Stopping by from A Little R&R.

    • Aww, Thanks! She really was a wonderful teacher. I sent her a holiday card last year telling her so! <3

  2. I had some amazing teachers that led me to a career of serving children, also.

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