"Teaching is such a thankless job"

I’m often befuddled by some of my peers’ comments. Recently, one of them said, “Teaching is such a thankless job.”


Not sure what I’m supposed to do with that. Should I argue that it isn’t, based on my experiences? Should I console this individual by saying that, surely, s/he is experiencing a momentary negativity and “it will get better”?

I don’t know what to do with dead-end negativity. There’s just no appropriate response for it.

This teacher may have meant that students are unappreciative, but that isn’t what was said.

Possibly, the meaning was that administration is unappreciative, but that isn’t what was said.

Unfortunately, I can’t support this person because I disagree. Teaching isn’t thankless unless you perceive it that way.

I mean saying that students are unappreciative, Mehhh….some of them, sure. Not all. It’s all in where you look.  We may have to start looking in weird places.

Much like the Five Love Languages, perhaps, students are appreciating us in ways we don't recognize. In the five love languages, we all have demonstrable methods of giving and receiving love: gifts, acts of service, quality time, verbal affirmation, and physical touch.

However, there may be a disconnect between how we give and how we receive appreciation, much like couples experience a disconnect in love languages. One spouse receives love through verbal affirmation, but the other gives love with acts of service, for example. We may give appreciation in one way, but the students give it back to us in another way.   

Did the teacher above simply not receive in the manner that was recognized as appreciation?

Some possible appreciation languages (with apologies to Mr. Chapman for the shameless steal) might be:

Verbal appreciation (expressed orally)

Written appreciation (expressed on paper or digitally, including text shorthand and emoticons)

Artistic appreciation (expressed through an artistic effort)

Countenance appreciation (expressed in the face)

Non-verbal appreciation (expressed through physical gesture, act, or control)

If a child has drawn you a picture or even folded a little paper football and given it to you, that’s artistic appreciation. If a child has smiled at you, that’s countenance appreciation. Probably easily missed is the non-verbal, and I’m thinking high-schoolers lean towards this one.

If an adolescent physically acknowledges and/or tolerates your existence on the planet, that’s a form of appreciation. That’s a big deal.

Maybe I’m pitiful because I gather appreciation like I gather oxygen.

No. Erase that. Actually, I GRAB onto it. I fiercely embrace every expression of appreciation, holding onto the little red paper dog face that a middle school student drew for me—she wasn’t even my student—holding onto the handmade Christmas ornaments, pencil sketches on lined notebook paper, the notes, the sticky notes, the chalkboard notes, and essays such as “Why Ms. Keller Would Like the Film: Poultrygiest: Night of the Chicken Dead”.

Those are tangible expressions, but I also carry the simple “Thanks”, the smiles, the shared laughter, and the many nicknames (Darth Keller, Coach, Sensei, Dawg). I carry the sight of the school’s football player lifting his chin to me as if to say, “I see you, hey” even though he is standing in a crowd of friends and could lose his “cool” status if anyone sees him.

I carry moments in time. I simply don’t let them go. I rest on them when I’m otherwise weary of apathy or non-response. I smile at THEM while looking at and interacting with the perhaps not-so-appreciative one. Thus, this student reaps the benefit of a positive experience from ten years ago that he’s not even aware of.

Administrative appreciation is no different, really. They come and go. I think as teachers we crave individual appreciation, and that isn’t often forthcoming from a supervisory group. 

Rather, administrators think organizationally, providing explicit appreciation on an organizational-level: treats (loved it when administration brought in breakfasts or lunches!), little surprises (nifty organizers), guest speakers, global thank-yous in their speeches. For that matter, fighting for funding for copy paper and new software (whether we actually get it or not), allowing me to vent without fear and with sympathy, and being honest with me when things suck.

If my principal or team-leader said thank you to the whole group, I owned that. Others may consider it “cheap” to own what they consider to be perfunctory or required praise, but because I knew I’d done a good job, I took it for my own.

Of course, at evaluation conferences, we get verbal and written appreciation. However, we don’t hear or see it through the criticism, probably. Maybe in this venue, we have to become expert distillers, separating the positive and the negative edification. Holding things up for the sake of understanding what we do well and why as well as what we need to do to improve.

Maybe I do have something to offer this person who feels the job is thankless.

Seek, gather, and hoard each and every vestige of appreciation from each and every person, and at the same time, scatter, bestow, and abandon every positive notion you have.