05/02/2016 06:42 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Thank a Teacher

One morning as we hustled around the house getting ready for school, my son asked, "Mom, why can't we wear hats in school?"

As I grabbed our lunches and bags I answered, "Oh...I think it's sort of a sign of disrespect."

But after working for six years as an elementary substitute teacher, I know the reason we don't wear hats in school. We remove our hats to salute the superhero at the front of the room called Teacher.


My son's first grade superhero teacher and her twin take the polar plunge on behalf of Team Teach to raise funds for Special Olympics (Photo credit: J. Richey).

For many of us, an occasional glance into a classroom might cause us to believe the only thing happening inside those cinder block walls is a sterile approach to cognitive development.

However, the most impressive feats of these superheroes aren't apparent to the casual observer.

A closer look reveals the delicate insight teachers apply as they assess the strengths and challenges of 20-some little humans. Beyond that, a teacher evaluates the needs of the class collectively. It changes every year and often throughout the year as students learn and grow.

In their more tender feats of heroism, teachers diagnose severe cases of math-itis and determine when "I don't feel good" really means "I don't want to do this." They often settle recess disputes and mend friendships with all the finesse of a hotel concierge.

It is hard to know whether those skills were honed in the trenches of grad school, student teaching, or classroom experience. Perhaps they come naturally to some. What is certain is that they are essential skills, but they often go unseen by everyone except the students.

For the perfectionistic student who is extremely sensitive, a teacher explains that feedback does not mean failure. Together they practice giving and receiving constructive criticism.

This is the unseen work of a teacher.

For the passive student who cannot articulate his needs, a teacher encourages him to find his voice. Then the teacher equips him with a simple script to give words to his wishes.

This is the unseen work of a teacher.

For the new student, the teacher accounts for what has previously been taken for granted. An international student may sing a rousing rendition of "God Save the Queen" or "O Canada" but may need help learning the lyrics and meaning of "The Star Spangled Banner."

This is the unseen work of a teacher.

And for each of these heroic efforts there is no standardized test and no bonus based on scoring. The unseen work can't be measured or plotted on a graph.

As a result, the reward for such unseen work is only occasional. Most often the rewards come directly from the students. It might be a hug, the evidence of effort, a note of thanks scrawled in crayon, or perhaps many years later, a diploma.

This year during Teacher Appreciation Week, let's take the opportunity to thank teachers for the work that is seen, scored, and paid for.

But let us not forget to salute these real life superheroes for the work that is rarely noticed, measured, or rewarded.

A good education is comprised of both.

Teachers, thank you for doing the important work of teaching, even when it goes unnoticed.

Our hats are off to you!

Shauna Letellier is a wife, mom of three boys, occasional substitute teacher, and writer. For ideas on how to thank a teacher for Teacher Appreciation Week (May 2-6), visit, or connect with her on Facebook.