A Brief Thought about Teaching and Thanks

I’d like to challenge the widely accepted belief that teaching is a thankless profession.

If you’re not a teacher, you might liken “Thank you” or “Great work” to the most impactful kind of validation. These things are very nice to hear, but they are flimsy and often fleeting. To balance your self-confidence on these words is risky.

If you know a teacher or two you might think that seeing a student grow is the greatest reward. It is true that students’ growth is exciting. Teachers like to swap stories about this all the time. This share-worthy kind of validation makes me smile a little and warms my heart a bit, but it also forces me to consider that the achievement of growth is braggish and more about the teacher’s skill than the student’s hard work.  I haven’t quite organized my thoughts on teaching as a mildly self-serving profession, so I’ll pause before I get ahead of myself.

But if you are a teacher you know that the greatest kind of thank you comes when students shed their own layers of preconceived assumptions of themselves and realize that they are more than they thought they were. 

The most enduring thank you is when you are no longer needed. When a student reveals that you are no longer needed for them to succeed you  relinquish the thought that you are a determining factor in a student’s potential for greatness. Then, not only can you finally exhale that breath you’ve been holding, but that student can look back from a distance and wave rather than scramble frantically to hold your hand.

This is the whole point. If you believe that to teach is to go without thanks, without validation, I believe you are looking in the wrong direction.


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