May 8 – 12, 2017 marks Teacher Appreciation Week – an event sponsored by the National PTA to celebrate teachers and deliver gratitude to them.

During this week, it is very common for people/kids to thank the their current teachers. But I bet very few of us take the opportunity to thank teachers who influenced us in the past.

I have heard more than one teacher talk about how meaningful it is when former students contact them, years later, to say thank you.  

For example, I recently attended my children’s school auction. A former student gave an inspirational speech about how the school and teachers helped shape the person she is today. She is just on the cusp of adulthood but has already helped save the life of a person and a dog. She credited her ability to do that because one of her elementary teachers believed in her and allowed her to explore her interest in a career as a paramedic/fire fighter at a very young age. This put her on an early path to seek training in the medical field and gave her the skills she needed to help out when she unexpectedly came upon a car accident. You could just see her former teachers beam and cry with joy as they listened to her heartfelt thanks!

Our role models share similar stories of how their teachers’ encouragement was a critical factor in their confidence to pursue STEM careers or other tough challenges. Here are a few examples…

  • “One of the biggest influences in my life - for me to move forward and excel - was my elementary school teacher. She was awesome, she believed in me and she encouraged me. I tended to panic and think I could not do things but she always supported and encouraged me to ‘just do it’!” - Sibel, Spacecraft Flight Software Engineer
  • “My PhD advisor was really great at teaching me how to think critically about problems and forcing me to be self-motivated!” - Carolyn, Cancer Researcher
  • “My botany professor was the first person to say ‘I see it in you, this stuff is easy for you’. He made me think of life differently in terms of what I could achieve. People would always say ‘whatever you set your mind to you can achieve’ but it wasn’t until working with him that I saw myself in a role as a professor or scientist or whatever I wanted to be!” - Violeta, Business Owner & STEM Initiatives Consultant
  • “My high school physics teacher was the one that brought me into the world of engineering. He showed me that even though it is really hard and its intimidating to do all of this physics and to go into engineering, he always said ‘YOU CAN DO THIS!’ and that is when I decided I wanted to do engineering.”  - Alexandra, Electrical Engineer
  • “When I was in 7th grade, the teacher was great at getting us out and seeing the environment instead of just sitting in a classroom and that helped me to fall in love with environmental sciences!” - Colleen, Senior Aviation Planner (Geo-Environmental focus)

Teachers – take these stories to heart and know that even if you don’t hear about it, your influence can positively shape your students’ lives even years after they were in your classroom.

And for the rest of us, I challenge you to take 5 minutes this week to reach out to a former teacher. Share with them how they positively impacted you and say thank you!

Our teachers have difficult jobs – hearing from former students can make a huge difference in helping them get through tough days! We are all counting on today’s teachers to inspire the next generation of STEM workers so let’s give them the gratitude they well deserve!

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