Keep Calm and Shoot Straight

A Blog for Teachers
by Mary Jean Powers

Thankless or Thankful?

Apr 5, 2021

“When we focus on our gratitude, the tide of disappointment goes out, and the tide of love rushes in.” 

Kristin Armstrong

Credit: Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash

Thankless …

Some say that teaching is a thankless job. I’ll admit that it is quite rare for elementary school teachers to hear those heartening words, “thank you for …” from a student, although we can hope that some of their parents will express appreciation. The frequency of those magic words increases a bit with middle/high school students, and we are optimistic that by the time young adulthood rolls around, students recognize the dynamic influence of a great teacher and acknowledge their life-contribution.

I remember whining one day about the tremendous lack of genuine gratitude. Why hadn’t more students taken time and thought to express their thanks? After all, I had poured countless hours into their lives, hosted them in my home and visited many of them in theirs, invested sincere prayer and time and resources and cash. Perhaps I had neglected to teach them the value of “thanks”? Well, it was obvious that someone had forgotten … (see what a rotten attitude I had??)

Complain. Moan. Self-pity. Groan. Waaah Waaah Waaah

Then quite suddenly, my attention was arrested:

When had I said “thank you” to my teachers?
When had I given back?
When had I taken the time to craft specific, humble words of appreciation, and found appropriate ways to express my gratitude?


Credit: Photo by Tatiana Rodriguez on Unsplash

Thankful …

That afternoon I began.
I purchased cards, wrote letters, sent flowers, wrote a check, mailed a book … and I continue to do so, even now. Time and again, I have seen my own attitude change and my heart soften toward my students by simply taking the time to say, “Thank you for your investment in my life. I am a better person because you were my teacher.”

A special one for me was my high school language teacher. Both of my brothers had aced his classes, but I struggled, oh how I struggled. However, I had the unequaled advantage of playing in an extra-curricular band with this teacher, so we shared many hours outside the classroom. Before one performance, I was appalled to see him smoking a cigarette … so I confronted him: What Are You Doing?!?! Unbelievable! You’re a Musician, for heaven’s sake! Why are you smoking?

In my yearbook, he wrote: To MJP. The girl – the inspiration – who made me quit smoking and made my wife jealous that you did when she couldn’t – It’s been a pleasure. You know, I think, how much appreciation, respect, and admiration I have for you.
Can you believe that?!?! I honestly had no idea he quit smoking … Hahaha!

Fast forward to 7 years ago when I found myself driving through his neighborhood in my hometown. I didn’t know if he still lived there, or frankly, if he was still alive.
I decided to stop to say, “thank you.” (Keep in mind that I had not seen this teacher in at least 40 years!)
When I knocked on the door, his wife answered. I told her why I was there. She asked my name.
When I replied, she rather blandly responded, “Oh yeah, you always were one of his favorites. I won’t tell him it’s you” and off she went to fetch him. He soon walked into the room – and I swear, he hadn’t aged one day – he smiled.
“Mary Jean Paris [my maiden name]. You always were one of my favorites!” (Did he say that to every student???)

We had a delightful and meaningful conversation. I learned that they were preparing to move across the state. Had I come two weeks later, I would have missed him. It was vitally important – for us both – that I took the time to thank him for investing in me, for “seeing” me, for inspiring me to teach, for his patience and his kindness.

I decided to look him up on Facebook about a month ago and sent a PM:
Hi Mr. _________! Mary Jean Paris, here. I was just thinking about you a couple of days ago, remembering the line you prompted us with in class: “Do you mean to tell me that … ?” Whenever you said that, I knew the answer was Yes. Otherwise, I was lost. Haha! Anyway, I just thought I’d say Hi. Hope you and yours are well and at peace. The photo you posted brings back many happy memories of band with you. 🙂 You haven’t changed! How do you do that?! God bless you, Sir.

He soon responded with this: Mary Jean Paris Powers. It’s been a very long time. Thank you for your message and for even thinking of me. I remember all of your family very well, including your home out on the other side of the lake. So nice to think about you and all the things we shared. Life goes on. … I see from FB that you are deeply into Bible ministry. I commend you and honor you for what you have undertaken. I spend time daily doing what you are promoting. God bless you and your ministry. Hoping that you stay happy and intimately close to the Lord. When possible, greet your remaining family for me.

What a gracious man.
I want to be like him when I grow up. I want to respond to former students with that special kind of grace.
Interactions like the ones I had with my high school language teacher suck the power from my whine! They make me thankful to be a teacher.
Conversations based on gratitude change my heart and make me less needy to hear “thank you” from students. And then, when those extraordinary words are expressed, they are rich with meaning and go straight to my heart.

How does my former teacher challenge you?
Whom do you need to thank?

About Keep Calm and Shoot Straight

I am a teacher. You, too? I hope you love the profession as much as I do! I was 16 when I got my first teaching gigs – I had 20 private piano students and a Sunday School class of 4 and 5-year olds! At that point in my “career,” my definition of teacher was very limited. But now – after 45+ years of experience – I have come to realize that teacher can mean many different things. I’d like to share some of those insights with you! My posts will range from quotes to prayers, from cartoons to words of wisdom. Much of my teaching experience has been international, so you'll get to watch some video stories from around the globe. Jesus is the best Teacher I know, so I will be including Him in this blog, as well. I hope my thoughts and my story will encourage, provoke, and inspire you to become the teacher you’ve been created to be!

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Mary Jean Powers

Mary Jean Powers

B.A. in Christian Education
M.A. in Biblical Studies
Music teacher (band and choir director, private instruction) for 35 years
International Bible teacher for 17+ years
Certified Walk Thru the Bible instructor
Certified TESL International Instructor
CEU Provider for ACSI (Association of Christian Schools International)
Certified Life Coach and Chaplain

Who am I? A teacher coming alongside teachers!