I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but things are still pretty stressful. Sure, some of us are beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel as friends and family members are getting vaccinated. But the day-to-day anxiety and stress still exists. While everyone is being hit hard with this pandemic, I think our teacher friends are being especially challenged. The teaching profession is predominantly guided by an “ethos of care” and that ethos is being tested daily. Teachers are working in new settings that seem to be constantly evolving. Their students and colleagues are getting ill. Their family members need attention. And they’re dedicating long hours trying to prepare lessons that simultaneously engage “the Roomers and the Zoomers.” It’s a stressful time, to say the least.
And I can see the impacts of the stress with my teacher friends. I see their posts on social media. I read the texts they send me and the Instagram photos they’ve posted. Like a boxer who has survived ten brutal rounds of a twelve-round fight, they may be standing but they’re on the ropes. They’re exhausted and they’re struggling to stay on their feet. And I’m sure a few are considering throwing in the towel.
And that’s where YOU come in. I know last week I invited you to write a blog post detailing what you’ve learned from the pandemic, but this week, I’m going to urge you to do something even more important: Practice gratitude. Think about all of those amazing teachers who have influenced you and helped you become the person you are today. Maybe you remember that fourth grade teacher who helped you practice your multiplication tables or that high school English teacher who gave such detailed feedback that you blossomed as a writer. Or maybe you remember that coach who spent hours throwing pitch after pitch so you could master your swing. Or maybe you’re thinking about the Biology teacher who helped you with that science fair project or the social studies teacher who fostered your love of history. Whoever you remember, now is the time to let them know. Practice gratitude. Say thanks. Let them know the impact they made in your life.
You don’t need to send a long email or a hand-written note or anything. Sending a simple email where you say “Thank you” will go a long way. Just to be clear. I’m not naive enough to believe that a single email will wipe away all of stress and anxiety from eleven months of teaching during a pandemic. But returning to my boxer metaphor, that “Thank you!” may act like a shot of adrenaline to get them through the next round or two.
Here’s one of the toughest parts about the “ethos of care” aspect of the teaching profession. Care is not a tangible entity. We can’t capture care in a bottle or detect it with any scientific instrument. So, while teachers are tapping into their deepest reserves of care to help their students (and others) through this pandemic, the impacts of care may be felt but they are not easily observed, even by the teachers offering it. And that’s why practicing gratitude is so important right now. It lets teachers know the impact of their work. Gratitude can make the invisible visible. It uncovers what is felt but cannot be seen. Gratitude can reify care.
The trick with gratitude is that it benefits the one offering gratitude as much as the one receiving it. So, while your words may be helping a favorite teacher get through a difficult time, you’ll also reap the benefits. At least that’s what the research from the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley says. So, even if you’re having a tough time navigating the pandemic yourself, practicing gratitude may help you, too.
To steal a line that Ross Gay offers in his poem “Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude,” I want you to “Bellow forth.” Express your gratitude unabashedly. Send that email. Offer your thanks.
It won’t change the world. But it may make a teacher’s day.