Teacher Appreciation: A Firsthand Perspective

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“Teacher! Teacher! TEEEAAACHHERRRRRRR!”

I honestly never thought those screams would ever be directed toward me. I was the least-likely one of all my friends and colleagues to ever be a teacher because… well, because I never wanted children (and still don’t).

I guess that’s not a reason to not teach, but still. I never thought I was a great source of knowledge throughout my “adult years.”

Teaching kids and teens of all ages in Thailand
Teaching kids and teens of all ages in Thailand

And yet, I’ve had the opportunity to teach English to adults and children in both Japan and Thailand now. It’s an experience, to say the least – but incredibly exhausting. During my lesson prep, my thoughts have usually revolved around, “How on earth did all my past teachers do it?”

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Being a teacher isn’t a walk in the park. It’s quite draining and sometimes not as rewarding as all the effort you put in.

However, I have no right to talk. I only teach one simple subject, which is the easiest of them all: English as a second language. And right now, in Thailand, I have the easiest schedule I’ve ever worked in my life. No wonder people ask, “Do you even work?!” 

In all truthfulness, I took these teaching jobs for the travel experience rather than the job itself, and I wouldn’t change a thing about that. Teaching English overseas is an incredible way to immerse yourself and really assimilate to a new, beautiful culture. You live more long-term in a particular location rather than bouncing around all the time without any means of cash flow.

Just a typical day off (or three, you know...)
Just a typical day off (or three, you know…)

I can’t even begin to imagine the difficulties my old primary school teachers must have gone through – especially when teaching a range of subjects (i.e. English, math, history, geography). I’m sure that summers were like gold to them (although most also teach summer school, so in that case… never mind). Controlling a class of 15 hyperactive 7-year olds is tough enough, so a class double that size seems like a literal nightmare to me. I understand why most teachers get burnt out so quickly.

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These girls were my favorites… every teacher has their “favorites,” come on!

There are some rewarding moments in teaching. I once told my students, “Teacher Debbi doesn’t have any brothers or sisters,” and one girl retorted, “But she has an elephant!” (I told them about my elephant pillow I sleep with). For a student to remember such minor, key details about your life is actually really amazing. Or the simplest hugs, like when a little 5-year old ran up to me crying and hugging me when another boy messed up his dinosaur creation on the floor, and I was able to comfort him and help him rebuild an even better one in a few seconds. The bounce back of children is truly admirable – I wish my emotions could bounce back into shape that quickly.

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One of my favorite moments was giving my stuffed pig to this boy on the last day, and he ran around the class carrying it everywhere (even when drawing on the whiteboard, it was cradled in his left arm). So cute. When he realized it was his, he asked, “Win’s pig?” (his name is Win) with a huge smile on his face.

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As a result, it means that much more to me when I reflect back on the truly inspirational teachers who have shaped my well-being. I realize how important they’ve all been in terms of supporting and encouraging not just me, but thousands of students who that they’ve taught on a yearly basis. From kindergarten (oh gosh, praise their souls) to university, every teacher and professor who truly goes above and beyond is a hero in my eyes.

Here are a few quick points on my favorite teachers crammed into the next few paragraphs. This is in honor of all their hard work, dedication, support, words of wisdom, and above all, patience.

Elementary School

Mrs. Anderson’s hands-on crafts and activities that incorporated logic and imagination rather than straight reading out of textbooks. Mrs. Wong’s songs, puppets, and creative activities that were educational and not cheesy (props to you for teaching our crazy kindergarten class). Mrs. Kitashima’s thorough approach to handwriting that resulted in the most beautiful penmanship of my life (which sadly only lasted during my time in her class). Ms. Takamine’s tutoring program that allowed me to take on responsibilities of tutoring someone in reading, as well as her versatile ability to make us always feel like learning was truly fun.

With BFFFFFF Victoria, since 2nd grade
With BFFFFFF Victoria, since 2nd grade
Intermediate School

Ms. Autenrieth’s bubbly, cheerful personality that made me love coming to school every morning. Mrs. VanCott’s spin on math concepts that incorporated Disney videos, activities, and crafts (favorite math class of my life). Mrs. Long’s geography class that planted the seed for obsessing over world maps and countries. Mrs. Lau’s sugary-sweet, hilarious personality that made every single one of her students (even the remedial math students) absolutely love and adore her… and her tendencies to give beautiful “thank you” gifts and notes in return for “thank you” notes (it’s an Asian thing, haha). Ms. Miyashiro’s witty, efficient methods of teaching some of the most difficult math subjects (algebra and geometry) in a way that got me to actually comprehend and like it. Mrs. Ziff’s quirky personality that really pushed me to channel my creative side and run with any ideas that I had. Ms. O and her positive reputation as the hippest, most chill substitute teacher in our school district (and Ms. J being known as the prettiest substitute).

High School

Mr. Anderson’s dry (somewhat twisted, “bitchin’ “) sense of humor that transformed world and U.S. history into one of the most awesome subjects ever (and kept us on our toes whenever he pelted us with chalk). Mr. Gonzalez’s radical, philosophical methods of teaching English as a theatrical drama. Ms. Borba’s take on biochemistry that made us all LOVE science (and how she allowed us to play lights-off Freeze Tag or whatever during summer school – man, she was too cool).

Stalker shot of Mr. Anderson because I can't find the rest of my old photos
Stalker shot of Mr. Anderson because I can’t find the rest of my old photos

And of course, there are select few people who aren’t just teachers, but incredible human beings in every form. 

Like Mr. Narumi’s selfless, kindhearted ways of always giving back to the community and putting students first at all times. He is the only reason why our high school band was a family – the only reason we deserved to be called the Mighty Spartan Band. He humbled all of us, taught us everything we knew (both musically and organically), and always pushed us to be the best at what we loved. I can’t think of anyone else who has a bigger heart than him, and who possesses more musical talent on all levels. He is quite possibly the only person I know who makes an effort to always stay in touch with alumni, for he truly goes out of his way to support each and every one of us in our futures (such as when he showed up to my going away party before I moved to New Zealand). Talk about a generous spirit – teachers like him are incredibly rare. When he ended up leaving at the end of our junior year, high school (and band) was just never the same – it was like a whole piece of us was missing.

Mr. Narumi <3
Mr. Narumi ❤

And quite possibly the most amazing teacher I will ever have in my life – Ms. Langevin – who not only taught me about the beauty of journalism, music composition, and English literature, but also served as an iconic mentor to me and nearly every graduating senior. All the late nights (translation: sleepless nights), all the food runs, all the things she went out of her way doing to ensure that everyone in journalism and AP English had all the best resources. She is the reason I discovered that my true passion was writing and storytelling, even if I always thought I was never that great at it. She allowed me to serve as the third Managing Editor on our high school newspaper in our senior year, the first year in all of Scroll history with three Managing Editors. For that reason alone, I truly owe everything to her, since she gave me the opportunity to showcase how much writing really meant to me. She’s also the reason why I sometimes second-guess myself and triple-check my blog posts in fear of making a bunch of journalistic/grammatical errors (which I undoubtedly still do).

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And Teacher Holly – who was not only my manager in Thailand, but a great mentor throughout my time here. Her steadfast dedication to the art of teaching and the ways in which she truly cares about each student, establishes notable rapport, and connects with them on such a meaningful level, ideally make her unlike any other teacher and managerial figure.

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University

My professors at UCSB were also phenomenal. The faculty and staff in our Department of Communication were simply out of this world, and one of the prime reasons why I’m so proud to be a Gaucho. After all, we even boasted Nobel Prize winners amongst our faculty.

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I can recite all of my favorites in a huge list: Professor Nabi (whose “Persuasion” course was the most challenging but also most beneficial), Professor Mullin (because she was my first-ever comm professor who breathed life into the entire field and I absolutely loved that she started out her career in Disney as well), Professor Afifi (both – who were not only insanely amazing professors, but were an insanely good-looking, perfect family with adorable children), Professor Giles (hilarious, cheeky British guy who made everything memorable through his jokes), Professor Myers (one of the most refined human beings I’ve ever met, without a single mean bone in her body). While I had to study hard and work harder than most other students just to get passing grades, the personal conversations with each professor are what I’ll remember most. It took me awhile to work up the courage to use their office hours and personally get to know each person on a deeper level. But when I did, it changed everything – those conversations are what I hold especially close to my heart.

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Professor Nabi, my favorite

And even some of our communication TAs – like Amanda Denes – are people I won’t forget, because they truly made me feel that college was a worthwhile experience rather than just “all academics.” And I guess it helped that we all thought that Amanda looked like a celebrity, so we always liked going to her office hours since she was just so sweet and awesome… 😉

And even the Disney College Program – Claudia and Paul – you are more than just instructors, but amazing career mentors who have endlessly supported and advised me when I was an overly ambitious (sometimes too much so) twentysomething. All of my job shadowing, informational interviews, informational e-mails, Q&A sessions, etc. were all thanks to your support, which allowed me to find my niche in the Disney community.

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Even some teachers that I didn’t have as actual “teachers” – but still knew of – (for example: Mr. Lightholder and his Bill Nye the Science Guy-esque creative inventions he showcased every year at our elementary school science fairs) left lasting imprints on me.

Like Ms. Cunningham’s warm enthusiasm and steadfast sense of humor that always lifted spirits in the journalism room. And the way in which she added so much happiness to our journalism nationals trips – without her, things would have been ten times less exciting and eventful, to say the least. 🙂 She deserves an award of excellence for being the spunkiest, most optimistic, and most fun of the faculty at Schurr High School.

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Or even the faculty, like Ms. Honda, who supported me during some personal struggles in my freshman year of high school, and organized a hilarious “welcome back” moment with lights off and paper confetti (we were that nerdy and un-resourceful) in my honors math class. Or Mrs. De La Torre, my elementary school principal, who still remembered me (and my BFF) when I e-mailed her before moving to New Zealand and received the sweetest e-mail back.

Or Joe Palladino, the UCSB Film & Media Studies undergraduate advisor, who ultimately allowed me to intern for the department based on my passion for the entertainment industry (even when I decided to drop the film double-major as a way to graduate in three years). To this day, he remains the coolest and most kindhearted person I knew on the campus of UCSB.

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To all my favorite teachers, professors, and everyone in the field of education – I hope you know how much you are appreciated.

I know how rare it is to receive words of thanks and appreciation in our society, so thank you for everything that you’ve done, from the bottom of my heart. For me personally, you have helped me figure out who I truly am and what makes me happiest – and that’s an amazing thing, since most people spend their whole life searching for both.

Perks of teaching in Thailand
Perks of teaching in Thailand

And to all my friends who are currently teachers (Jennifer, Kevin, Flo, Jaclynn, Diana) – I’ve seen your boards and creative displays, and damn, you’re a thousand times more dedicated than I ever could be. You guys rock and I have a serious sense of respect and admiration for all of you, moreso than ever before.

Teacher Appreciation Day is May 3 this year (changes every year, so Google it to be sure). Make sure you do your part and thank all of your past, present, and future teachers – trust me, they deserve to be thanked.

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