On Appreciation

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week in the United States and I’m seeing my social media feeds filled with reminders to let teachers know how much they’re appreciated. I’ve also seen a number of my teacher friends change their profile pictures to include specialized “Teacher Appreciation” frames and banners. Additionally, a bunch of businesses are offering special discounts for teachers as a way to show their appreciation. For example, a teacher can get a free McFlurry from McDonalds on Tuesday May 4. While the day may be “Star Wars Day” to some, it’s National Teachers Day to those of us in the education world.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the word “appreciation” lately. In a conversation recently, a friend said that the word “appreciation” has taken on more of an amorous tone with teenagers. I don’t know adolescents have co-opted or repurposed the word, but saying “I appreciate you” now means “I REALLY like you.” As in “like you like you.” So, I did some digging. While I couldn’t find any confirmation on Urban Dictionary, I did find numerous definitions on Dictionary.com.

Appreciation (noun)

*gratitude; thankful recognition: They showed their appreciation by giving him a gold watch.
*the act of estimating the qualities of things and giving them their proper value.
*clear perception or recognition, especially of aesthetic quality: a course in art appreciation.
*an increase or rise in the value of property, goods, etc.
*critical notice; evaluation; opinion, as of a situation, person, etc.
*a critique or written evaluation, especially when favorable.

Mixed in with really important words like “gratitude” and “thankful” are words like “critique” and “evaluation.” I don’t want to speak for all teachers, but if I’m guessing that receiving a critical email from a parent wouldn’t be the ideal way to celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week. So, I thought I’d offer a better option to clarify what teachers need right now. And then I realized that I already had.

A few months ago, I wrote a post titled Practice Gratitude. In that post, I wrote:

“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.

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.”

So, while businesses are offering discounted memberships or free tacos or complimentary milkshakes as a way to show teachers how much they’re appreciated, the most meaningful way to show a teacher they’re appreciated is just to say “Thanks!”

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