‘I’m getting teary thinking about it’; Students at Elon school send notes of encouragement to teachers amid pandemic

What's Right with Our Schools

ELON, N.C. — Timothy Johnson knows this is typically a tough time of year for teachers. 

“It’s the middle of winter, the middle of the school year. And you’re looking at two straight months without a holiday until spring break in April,” said the librarian and webmaster at Western Alamance High School. “Then you throw on top of that the pandemic and a year of remote learning. And, you know, everybody knows that the teachers are just, it’s really difficult. And I wanted to thank them. I wanted them to know that they were appreciated.”

He also knew, if the words came from the students, they would mean so much more. So, he put together a Google form where the students could send compliments to their teachers, thanking them for their hard work.

“I actually said in the email that this was a secret between me and a thousand students,” he said. “So, I sent them all a message saying that if they want to say something nice about a current teacher or a former teacher to just go ahead, and then I would publish it and send it on to the staff.”

He got more than 300 student responses, and every teacher in the school had a special message from a student in their inbox. For social studies teacher April Williams, those messages could not have come at a better time.

“To open that up to see students, not just students I had taught pre-COVID, but also students that I had only taught in COVID. One in particular who left their name, cause some of them were anonymous, some people left their names, but one student left their name, and I had only taught her for a week. I’m getting teary thinking about it,” she said. “And it just meant so much to know that when I’m talking to the camera, that there is someone on the other end, and they look forward to class. They look forward to that time with me.”

Math teacher Karen Rhea agrees.

“Teaching has been very challenging in the time of the pandemic and we’ve not been with kids,” Rhea said. “I mean, it’s all remote. So just an opportunity for the kids to give encouragement to their teachers.”

It was extra special because Rhea says she knows the kids are hurting too.

“For these kids, they’re struggling too, you know, and for them to take the time to encourage us and say, you know, ‘We appreciate what you’re doing, Ms. Rhea. We know you’re trying.’ It is. I think I’m going to appreciate these kids in a different way. I think they might appreciate us in a different way too.”

She added, “I just was reminded too of the power of encouraging words, and I’m going to pay that forward. I want to make sure I remember that because it’s been a challenge, but the kind of words that they said, it encouraged me and I know other faculty here.”

A simple gesture and a few kind words to help chase away the winter blues.

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