How do you begin to say ‘thank you’ to the people who helped shape your children?

My daughter just graduated from high school. Like most parents of seniors through the years, I’ve experienced a roller coaster of emotions — pride at her accomplishments, sadness over how fast it all went and regret for things I should have done differently as a parent. On top of all of the normal emotions, the pandemic has made that roller coaster full of even higher highs and lower lows — events cancelled, memories taken away.

“Ladies and gentlemen, introducing the ultra-extreme, mega-spine chilling COVID coaster! Step right up and get on board. No seriously. Get on board. You don’t have a choice.”

As we navigated the very different experiences of my daughter’s senior year during a pandemic, one thing is no different than if she had graduated last year or even five years from now — my absolute, undying gratitude to the teachers who have shaped my child as much as her dad and I have. Where do you begin? I’m a professional writer, and the words are not coming. But I will do my best now.

As I write these words, specific teachers come to mind, and I hope you’ll recognize yourself in these sentences. But I don’t want to name names for fear of leaving someone out. Because the truth is, my daughter has NEVER had a bad teacher. In fact, if we were to hold Olympic games for the best teachers in the world, I’m visualizing a handful of teachers I know who could be jostling to reach the gold medal podium.

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Think about it. Yes, we brought this girl into the world and had nearly exclusive responsibilities to shape her in those early years. But even as a baby, toddler and preschooler, we weren’t alone in teaching her how to navigate her journey through life. Early childhood educators taught not with flashcards and pop quizzes, but tactically through painting with pudding or using music to understand emotion. They changed diapers, wiped up messy faces and wrote encouraging notes home when my child might not have been a perfect princess at nap time. My daughter learned how to reach out to grandmas and grandpas that were not her own during trips to a local nursing home. She learned about kindness and being a good friend.

For that, teachers, I thank you.

The elementary years go by in the blink of an eye. Kindergarten teachers wipe away tears while helping children explore the new world of reading. First, second, third, fourth and fifth grade teachers who get as excited about field trips as any student in the class, sending the message that learning doesn’t always happen inside the classroom walls. Anxieties start to appear in those pre-teen years, and the teachers are there to navigate them and come up with new ways for that child to learn. In elementary school, children learn to follow the rules — stand in line on the way to lunch, raise your hand if you’d like to speak and stop talking when the teacher claps her hands and you clap back. But children are also encouraged to be themselves and celebrate their gifts.

For that, teachers, I thank you.

I’ve often thought being a middle school teacher has to be one of the toughest jobs on the planet. They see some students who are very much still children and crave the structure of elementary school, while other students seem nearly ready for the halls of high school. There are hormones, heightened emotions and a lot of surly attitudes. But in our case, the teachers seemed to know how to diffuse the surliness and inspire creativity, laughter and learning. My kids were encouraged to expand their horizons by interacting with students of different ethnicities and faith backgrounds and to start thinking about how they could become better citizens of the world, not just their small school in Minnesota. They were encouraged to try out and audition for plays and sports that terrified them a little. They learned the only failure is not trying. During the pandemic, I saw the middle school teachers on social media, perhaps more than anyone, emotionally declaring how much they missed our kids. They played songs for them, sang for them and even did funny videos imitating them. With a nod to Sally Field’s famous Oscars’ speech, “You like them, you really like them.”

For that, teachers, I thank you.

Wasn’t it just yesterday, I dropped off my freshman and her friend at good old Door 13 at Moorhead High School? Yes, I believe it was. But clearly the universe had other ideas. I just got done posting pictures of her donning her cap and gown. During our last visit to the high school, when she did her walk-through graduation (to be streamed later on SpudsTV) she was greeted with big smiles from teachers who congratulated her and said they missed her. These are teachers that had to switch gears from classroom instruction to online learning with not a lot of notice. And by all accounts, they did a fantastic job. As I worked from home for the last couple of months, I heard a lot of laughter coming from my daughters' online classrooms. Who knew high school teachers could be so entertaining? It was in high school that I saw my senior blossom. My husband and I are getting a sneak peek into what drives her — where her passions are taking her, and we couldn’t be more excited about what's ahead.

She’s found a love of literature - asking for a set of Bronte sisters books for her 18th birthday. (I think I might have asked for a new Loverboy album for my 18th.) She had English teachers who helped her see the power and beauty of words, both from others and herself. She talks about literature at the dinner table. She learned about responsibility, commitment and doing her very best through extracurriculars like speech and theater.

For that, teachers, I thank you.

Of course, I’m writing this about my experiences in Moorhead, Minn., both with preschools here and Moorhead Public Schools. But this could be written about many districts all over our region and country.

I want teachers everywhere to know that despite your frustrations with parents (and I know we can be a frustrating lot), the overwhelming majority of us appreciate the work you’re doing. We see the sacrifices you're making, the long hours writing lesson plans and grading papers, dealing with defiant children (and parents) and the times you're spending your own hard-earned money to make your classroom just a little more special.

It’s human nature isn’t it? People often stay silent when things are going well and speak up when there’s something to complain about. I can testify it’s very true in the world of journalism. And just look at Twitter. People will complain to Burger King about their burnt French fries more often than tweeting “Boy, that was a good Whopper!”

So teachers, as you finish up another year — an extra stressful one at that — give yourselves a pat on the back. K-12 is in the history books for the class of 2020. Relish in a job well done sending these new adults into the world. Now please rest up, recuperate and recharge your batteries. The class of 2033 is knocking at your door.