Gratitude and Appreciation

Most of the teachers, professors, and others from whom I learned the most and whom I appreciated the most are dead. That wouldn’t seem surprising, given my age, but several of them died far too young. Even when I was much, much younger, I did contact them to let them know of my gratitude and appreciation – with one exception, a professor who died while I was deployed as a pilot. I’d meant to write him, but I procrastinated and then I was in a place [long before the internet] where I couldn’t get his address, and by the time I could, he was dead of a fast-moving cancer I never knew he had. There were some I only contacted occasionally, largely because they never responded, but I still made those occasional contacts. Those who did respond I kept in touch with until they died. But I still regret the one letter I didn’t write.

Oh… I’ve dedicated books in his memory, and I’ve told many of how much he meant, but I wish I’d told him that what he taught me literally formed one of the pillars of my literary success, but then, when he died, I was a barely published poet, and certainly no great success, and I think that I wanted to be able to tell him more… and instead I told him nothing.

Because I’ve taught, and because I’m married to a professor who’s spent fifty years singing and teaching, and because I have grown children who teach, and have acquaintances who’ve taught most of their professional lives, I’ve seen hundreds of students come and go, and know of hundreds more, and the vast, vast majority of them seldom express any appreciation beyond a quick verbal thank-you, if that, even to teachers and professors who’ve gone out of their way for them, far beyond any call of duty.

Some will say that this is just the present generation, but I have my doubts, perhaps because of a story my mother told me. She was the salutatorian of her high school class, and she felt she owed a thank you to the teacher who helped her prepare her speech. So she wrote him a note expressing her appreciation. A year later, when she came home from college at Christmas, her mother told her that she’d run into the teacher at the grocery store, and that he was so grateful for that note, since it was the first one he’d received in all his years of teaching. That was in 1937.

At this time of year, with graduations approaching, I wonder how many students, whether graduating from high school college, or graduate school, will even think about those teachers who went out of their way for them… or will they merely think that they deserved all that extra time and effort?

5 thoughts on “Gratitude and Appreciation”

  1. Shannon says:

    It’s interesting that you chose to write on that topic today. Just prior to reading your blog, I wrote a thank you email to a professor. Professors do so much more than teach; they provide recommendations, mentor students, and many other behind the scenes tasks that help students. Sometimes I think about keeping in touch with old professors and teachers but I always think they would be too busy with other students and I don’t want to take up their time. I guess thank you notes never go out of style. I question whether an email or an actual handwritten note is better. Some people don’t want the clutter.

    1. I think it depends a great deal on the professor. My wife the professor prefers the hand-written types. One of my professor daughters prefers email.

  2. Tim says:

    This post was an eye opener. My UK university lecturers in physics were rarely at professor level and usually lectured to the blackboard which gradually became covered with equations. At the end of the lecture you picked up a roneo of some poorly-produced handouts.

    Essentially you were on your own. I like to believe I graduated in spite of the teaching but then again you had to think on your own.

    No letters from me!

  3. Lourain says:

    For me, a high school science teacher, it isn’t written thanks that gives me the greatest pleasure, but when former students visit the old school, and drop in to tell me in great detail about their lives and current projects. At the end of one such visit, a student told me, “You are the only person around here I knew would understand what I am doing.”

  4. Cindy says:

    I don’t think it is the current generation really. I received more thank you cards from high schoolers or jr highers than I have ever received at the college level.
    I think most of the time, they don’t even think about thanking someone for their time or even think about the time we take for them.
    They seem to think it is the norm until they run in to a teacher who refuses to give them anything…that makes them stop and think!

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