“You’re really writing a card for that?”
“But, Miss. It was only a picture!”
I’m lucky to receive gifts as a teacher. Of course, I have some favorite teacher gifts from over the years. But I treasure every time a student and their family thinks of me.
Recently, it occurred to me that I’ve written a fair amount about teacher presents on the blog, and I’ve definitely seen countless posts in other places (I’m looking at you, Pinterest). But I have never shared what happens after the fact.
I write my students thank you cards. Every student. For every gift.
Sometimes, I’m left with a pretty wicked hand cramp, but here’s what I hope my students learn from my thank you cards.
#1 – Thankfulness is something to practice.
I spent countless hours practicing the clarinet, and even more time practicing piano. There were six long months of indoor and outdoor track with practices both before school and after — you know, when I wasn’t trapped in a five-hour meet — that were filled with running and regret.
There are so many things in my life that I’ve practiced. Some by choice, some by force.
Some things stuck.
And other things, well, let’s just say the only part of running that stuck is just how much I am not a runner.
Few things in my life have stuck like practicing thankfulness.
I write a lot of thank you cards. Not only do I write them, but I spend a lot of time choosing the right cards and finding the appropriate words. I savor the process.
Every Christmas, I write my cards out before I go to bed that same night. For our wedding, I wrote my cards out right away, and then I special ordered 3 x 5 photos of each guest in a fun candid or a formal pose, enclosing them in the cards.
I’m so over-the-top with thank you cards that my best friend actually includes them in her gifts to me on occasion. For my surprise golden birthday party, she and my husband made a little gift basket that features necessities like gold glitter sunglasses and sparkly nail polish. The bottom of the basket held the perfect set of black and gold thank you cards with a note that read: “Saved you a trip to Target.”
I am an anomaly.
Not just because I’m so frugally awkward that it’s painful sometimes, but also because I have practically turned thank-you-card writing into an Olympic sport…that no one else plays.
In a world where no one seems to feel like they ever have enough and where so few people take the time to express their thanks, I can’t help but wonder how different things would be if we all wrote a few more cards.
I want my students to see the value in practicing gratitude.
Even if they never write it down, it’s important to think about what you have and what you are given. And there’s no better way to teach something than to model it.
#2 – Unwritten rules matter.
Society has so many unwritten rules. We can debate them until we are blue in the face, but that’s not the point.
Instead, I simply want to make the unwritten more visible to my students.
There are all sorts of social situations where it is not only good for our own souls to practice gratitude, but an important piece of social etiquette to do so.
For instance, I know not everyone sends thank you cards or thank you emails after job interviews. I know it’s hotly debated. Remember when all Twitter hell broke loose?
Every year, I stumble across a handful of students who are stunned when I hand them the card. Not because they don’t understand why I’m taking the time to write a thank you card for a doodle they’ve done or a note they’ve written. But because they’ve never actually held a paper thank you card before for any reason.
If you never receive a thank you card, why would you ever think to send one?
Right or wrong, old-fashioned or not, it is important for my students to know that written thank yous exist, might be expected in some cases, and feel pretty darn great to receive in all cases.
#3 – Words in action are powerful.
I’m an English teacher. I live and breathe words, so absolutely no one is surprised that I love writing and stationery.
In today’s society, words swirl around us 24/7. Yet, it’s increasingly rare to see written language that is both formal (OK, maybe not formal, but handwritten!) and kind.
It costs only a few dollars, but it gives my students a chance to see an authentic way to communicate thoughtfully. Plus, I figure this is my small way of bringing back paper notes, if only for a moment.
#4 – Your time matters more.
I’ve had friends and family, coworkers, and even students themselves question my thank you cards.
Some years, I might get gift cards for $5, $10, or even $25 from a student and their family. I write them a thank you card, sure. And I write cards for students who sprinkle Hershey kisses on my desk or take the time to draw sketches of scenes from the novel we just finished.
Yes, I even wrote a thank you card for the student who cut out a sloth wearing a Santa hat from a fabric remnant in his Family and Consumer Science class. Because how could I not thank him for the laugh?
No matter the financial cost, I want my students to know that their time and effort matters as much–or maybe much more!–than the money they spend on gifts.
Final Thoughts on Thank You Cards
At the end of each school year, I write each of my students a thank you card. Some years, that number is pushing 100, and it’s worth every twinge in my thumb (plus, it’s a fantastic excuse to buy new Flair pens!).
There are bad days in teaching. There are bad weeks, months, and yes, even bad school years.
Even when things are hard, it’s important to be grateful. In fact, that’s the most important time to be grateful.
As this holiday season comes to close, I’m finishing up my thank you cards. Because there are lessons to be learned from practicing gratitude openly.
Lessons for my students and for me.
So Tell Me…Do you write thank you cards? Did you know I’m such a thank-you-card weirdo?