The calendar turns to September, and in my house the agonizing grunts and groans of my children can be heard. All I have to say is “Back to school!” and they scream and carry on as if they are going into a rock quarry to begin hard labor. Since Labor Day always falls around the beginning of the ninth month, and the first day of school usually comes a day or two after it, the start of school and this holiday seem inextricably linked. Perhaps that is as it should be, for while our children fear the first day of school, their teachers have been preparing for it all summer.
That is why it is necessary and compelling to thank an educator for Labor Day. You probably won’t see your child’s teacher until later this week, but why not go out and get a “thank you” card now? On the first day teachers – even the most veteran – always have a few butterflies too. They think: “What will my class be like?” They also think about you – the parents and guardians – because teachers know that if the school year is to be successful, they are going to have to establish a strong relationship with parents as soon as possible.
Parents who start the year with a “thank you” are already letting teachers know from the start “We are on the same team.” Your child’s teacher will know that you respect the efforts he or she will make during the year. Your child will also learn something from this – he or she will know that you value that person and respect him or her. That is a nice way to get things started in the hectic first days of school.
People who are not educators do not understand the “labor” involved in being a teacher. When I first started teaching everyone – my friends and family included – all thought I had it easy. Some even went so far as to say I didn’t have a “real” job. These people were suffering from delusions because they thought that I was off on holiday vacations and during the summer, but they didn’t realize that teachers are never off. Teachers usually take some courses over the summer, or they travel to learn about something they are teaching more intimately. They also research during the school year, mark papers, prepare lessons, and correspond with parents. The school day does not end with the last bell for teachers, as they work many more hours doing things students and parents never see.
In essence teachers are always teaching even when they are not in the classroom. Teaching is a not just a job; it is a labor of love. The greatest teachers are there because they live to teach, to impart wisdom to their students, to enhance their understanding of not just subject matter but the world in which they live. In this way teaching is a sacred profession, and most teachers I have known see their charge as one they take seriously and appreciate deeply. It is truly an honor and a distinction to be able to stand in a classroom and be a teacher, and the best ones understand this and are thankful for this precious opportunity to help shape the future for their students.
Labor Day is a day when we honor all workers. “Work” is something that should be respected on all levels. People who “work” are in some way making life better for others, whether they are serving burgers in McDonald’s, driving a subway train, washing windows on a skyscraper, or pushing papers in an office. All work is by nature worthy of respect because it is something people do that contributes to the world. When I see those shoeshine fellows on Fifth Avenue, I admire them because they are offering a necessary service and should be respected.
Still, above all professions, teachers should be honored because of their contribution not just to today but tomorrow. They have studied hard in school, earned their degrees, and continue training after they have secured a position. As John Cotton Dana said, “Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.” That is the nature of teaching, and teachers enter into their careers knowing this and are charged by the challenge of being always on, just like a lantern lighting the darkness.
So this Labor Day make it a point to thank a teacher. Teachers are not expecting it, so you will make their day and also set the tone for the rest of the year. Yes, you probably don’t know this teacher yet as a person, but it will be essential for you to establish a relationship and communicate frequently. This way the teacher will know from day one that you respect him or her, appreciate all the hard work he or she does, and that will pave the way for a great school year to come.
Photo credits: teacher-personnel.psu.edu; apple blackboard-schools.nyc.gov; math teacher-cclibraryks.org