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Laughably Insufficient: To Thank a Teacher

book, diploma and graduation cap isolated on white

Nothing feels quite so insufficient as giving a teacher a year-end gift.  The greatest thanks are the hardest to articulate. The biggest, deepest gifts are the hardest to give. There is just so much in it, behind it, wrapped up in it. It can never be enough.

I wrote this the year that Tucker finished kindergarten, when we were in our first year of the great darkness and his teacher had loved us through a dozen hurdles.  I’m posting again this year, because it bears repeating every single year, but you’ll notice the details are a little dated in spots.  But all of it still feels laughably insufficient.


Thank you for influencing this year in my son’s life, for being someone he will forever remember. Thank you for teaching him manners, respect, courtesy, courage, not to mention how to read.  In exchange, I’ll hand you a $10 gift card to Starbucks.  Or perhaps $25 to Amazon.  Or a bouquet of brand new, sharpened pencils.  Or even a bowl of strawberries from my garden with a little note on gingham paper that says, “I couldn’t have picked a better teacher than you!”

(Don’t let me mislead you, as I am absolutely not a gardener and the berries on the teacher’s desk aren’t from me.  Good grief, if there were a law that we must grow our own gifts, then I fear the best I could offer would be a bald Chia pet.)

All of it feels laughably insufficient.  Woefully not enough.  But the truth is, I can’t think of anything that would be enough.

It’s like saying thanks to your own parent, as if a necktie or a macaroni necklace – or even a hanging plant!  Or an iTunes gift card! – could ever hold it all.  There’s no way to adequately convey the depth of gratitude.

What I want to say is,

Thank you for loving my son this year.

Thank you for teaching him to write his name in cursive, the lost art.

Thank you for teaching him to read a bedtime story.

Thank you for showing grace to me, the former reading teacher, who has apparently no capacity to teach her son these skills.

Thank you for giving him a snack or a water bottle when I forgot to send them.

Thank you for never frowning at us when we were – yet again – late.

Thank you for teaching him that there are other authorities, that rules happen outside our home too, that some people out there have expectations that match his mother’s.

Thank you for your patience. With them, with me.

Thank you for your sensitivity to a boy without a dad, a wife without her husband, a family compass looking for its needle.

Thank you for sweet crafts, creative lessons, and gentle reminders.

Thank you for knowing that busy and loud don’t always mean naughty and mischievous.

Thank you for your keen eye that sees one child lagging behind while another one lurches ahead. Thank you for loving them both, the laggers and the lurchers.

Thank you for loving the ones who are mine.

For in loving them, you have loved me.

How do I say all of that, when the classroom is bustling with tassels and gowns, certificates and goody bags, cookies and punch?  How do I say all of that, when the teachers are swarmed with a million adoring children and even more enamored parents, all of whom are spilling with thanks we don’t know how to say?

The moment is too big and too small, all at once.  The words can’t be said.  It seems the most important ones never can. 

So, instead, I hug her gently. I hold onto her elbows. 

I say, “Thank you. You were just what we needed this year, in every single way.”

Tricia Lott Williford

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  1. Tricia, this teacher thanks you. For noticing. For acknowledging. For entrusting me. I believe most of us keep going back because of the opportunity to play that role. In the life of your child. And maybe in the life of your family. It is our purpose. You are very welcome!
    There’s a thing you can do though. Email the principal. Tell him what a difference I’ve made. Perhaps specifically a couple things I did. Some principals already know. Others aren’t paying attention, and your words could make all the difference for me.
    Thanks for your passion; I so enjoy hearing from you!

  2. Thank you for sharing this Tricia. It is a good reminder for me.

  3. There is no tangible way to express thanks fully for such an intangible service. Like the wind blowing, we can’t see it, we can only see its influence. We can’t see the teacher’s work on our psyches, we can only see his or her influence in the subsequent behavior and actions of the student, our child.

    Yes, no tangible gift can ever be adequate. Most teachers I know are thrilled with the heartfelt words of thanks, with the maintenance of the relationship, between child and teacher and/or between parent and teacher, long after the student has entered the adult world. I recently reconnected with my most influential English teacher from high school. I needed her to know how powerful her work was on me. I may never be an award-winning, famous author, but whatever I do write, I do with a curiously humble pride, not in myself but in knowing that her touch has improved my work.

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