Thank you notes are sometimes considered an irrelevant practice, but they are as important today as they were 30 years ago. Today’s culture is often very self-focused. Hollywood has an entire awards season filled with hundreds of thank-you speeches, but people are more likely to remember the designer of a starlet’s dress than the name of one person she thanked as she received her trophy.
Today’s blog post is written by Rebecca Gettelman who is a middle and high school teacher from the Midwest. She has been teaching for over eleven years. In this blog post, she shares her passion for getting students invested in their learning as an important part of her English Language Arts classroom.
But despite this, despite the social norm of claiming as much glory for yourself as possible, despite a society that seems to promote saying please and thank you solely in our kindergartens, genuine thank yous are incredibly important. Not only are they good manners, but they express gratitude and give value to those being thanked. They say, “I see you. I see what you did. I value what you have said and done. You are important.” And in a society where people feel increasingly isolated, lonely, and value-deficient, this is so important. Today I want to share with you the impact of three thank yous. (All names have been changed for the privacy of the individuals in these stories.)
Anecdotal: Thank-You Note Surprise
Teaching can be a fairly thankless job. In addition to long hours and constantly changing requirements, you get to be on the receiving end of angry/upset parent emails and teach a classroom full of young people who sometimes would rather be anywhere but there. Occasionally, something happens that makes it worth all the headaches and heartaches.
Several years ago a colleague and a good friend received a hand-addressed envelope in her school mailbox. It was letter from a former student. In it the student talked about what a difference she had made in their life and how because of her efforts, they were finding themselves not only capable, but very successful in high school math. The student said they just wanted to make sure his former teacher knew how important she was in his life and how much he appreciated her time and efforts.
Build time into your English classes either during the holiday season (Thanksgiving – Christmas) or during your end of the year activities to provide students with the time to write one or more thank you notes to people who have made a difference. Start with brainstorming a list of people your students could thank this year – i.e. coaches, custodians, other teachers, then teach them a formal lesson on thank you note writing. I have done this on plain lined paper, but this year I hope to remember to look around for discount blank note cards so the recipient of these notes feels even more special.
Anecdotal: It’s the Little Things That Matter
At the end of every year (or semester, if it is only a semester-long class), I ask my students to fill out an evaluation of me. One of the questions I ask is, “What makes me a good teacher?” After one of my first years teaching, one of my students answered, “You obviously care about us and how we feel. You always notice when we are having a bad day, and say please and thank you to us. You don’t have to, but you do.”
Truth be told, even as I read that evaluation, I could not have told you one specific time when I said thank you to my students. I am sure I did (and do), and I believe that being polite is very important and try and model that to my students, but the daily pleases and thank yous are not particularly memorable to me. To this student though, they obviously made enough of a difference that she took the time to write about it when she didn’t have to.
So don’t forget that saying thank you can mean so much. To you, it might be a little thing, but to the person being thanked, it might turn around a bad day, give validation to an often thankless job, or even be something that is remembered years later. So get in the habit of thanking those around you for the small things they do. Whether you do it in person, in writing, or in some other way, thank you makes a world of difference. It is also important to thank your students when they have done something worthy of a thank you (i.e. being good for a sub, or volunteering their time) when students feel valued they are much more motivated to continue spreading kindness.
Looking for a way to encourage your students to thank those that make a difference in their lives? Try this Thank You Letter Writing Mini Unit activity.