I recently had the opportunity to speak with our wonderful middle school students in chapel. My actual speech was perhaps a little different than the way I wrote it. I hope the kids took me up on my challenge!
“You made a difference in my life, and I am sorry I never told you so.”
I heard this recently, and I honestly cannot remember where I was. Maybe I was at a teaching conference, listening to an inspiring educator. Maybe I was right here in chapel, listening to someone reflect on their past. The reason I don’t remember is because it is very common.
It is too common because sometimes, we do not appreciate all that we have, and we very often do not appreciate the things people do for us. In this case, the speaker was telling a story about how a former student came up to him decades later. Something had been gnawing at the student who was now an adult. He finally found the teacher and thanked him for all he did for him many years ago, and he also apologized for not having done it sooner.
“You made a difference in my life, and I am sorry I never told you so.” A simple statement, but a powerful sentiment.
I don’t know if you know this, but my wife is a former teacher. She taught first grade for many years, and she recently received this email.
Hello! This is an old student of yours (and I mean old)! You had me for 1st grade in 1993. I’m not sure if you’ll remember me, but I just wanted to let you know that you were by far the most caring and wonderful teacher I’ve ever had, and that to this day I think back to your classroom with a smile. Just wanted to say thank you for being a wonderful person, and I hope you are doing well these days!
That email probably took her 30 seconds to write, but I will tell you my wife felt great for weeks!
I joined Facebook in January of 2008. I had to look it up. I remember hearing that all of my upper school students were using Facebook, and I wanted to see what it was all about. I assumed it was some silly thing for kids to use to gossip, but I was pleasantly surprised. I joined and people from my past started “friending” me, and it allowed me to catch up with everyone. But the biggest joy for me was when my former students and players I coached reached out and connected. They just wanted to say hello and see what I was up to. They shared their favorite memories of my classroom, and they thanked me. It made me feel so good to know I made a difference. And the bonus for me was that many of them went on to become teachers.
Recently, a student I taught in 8th grade found me on Facebook and told me that he was constantly ridiculed as a kid because he was very short and because he was, in his words, “different.” He thanked me for always making him feel special and safe in my classroom. I cannot tell you how happy this made me.
An EA teacher just received a note from an alumna, who is about my age. Here is an excerpt of what she wrote about one of our teachers at Episcopal:
She was my physics teacher but she became so much more! She became my advisor and a great friend at EA. We all loved her dedication to making us believe we could do anything, even when it was really challenging…Most of all, though, we loved the love we got from her! She treated us all fairly and with a gentle hand and made us smile even in the midst of challenges. I remember her telling me that I could do anything because it was all possible and that I had talent within, even when high school got a little rough for me….She was a wonderful example of a great teacher, a great friend, and a great mentor.
When teachers hear something like this, it changes their lives.
So when I heard the story about the student finding his teacher many years later to thank him for making a difference but also apologizing for never saying so earlier, I thought of you. I thought of you because you have a special gift. You have the gift of not going through your whole life and regretting you haven’t said thank you. When I heard that story, it made me want to come here and ask you to give thanks to someone.
Find a way…Find a person…Find a reason…Be creative!
What are some creative ways people have said thank you?
If you sit with your friends at lunch today and talk for 5 minutes about this, you will think of a dozen different and creative ways to thank someone. It can be a surprise like the bank commercial, or it could be something very simple. Think of a teacher or someone here at school whom you want to thank and find a way to tell them.
Do it together…Do it by yourself…Make it anonymous if you would like
The point is, it does not matter how you do it. It matters that you do it.
If you want, you could let me know what you came up with. I’d love to hear from you. Share with me what you did and why you did it. I promise you it will make you feel good.
All teachers have a few examples of these because we are very lucky to be rewarded each day with the gift of working with young people. And sometimes, someone will go out of his or her way just to say thank you. And when they do, I can tell you it means the world to us.