It’s been so beautiful outside the past couple of weeks, with so many blooming flowers all around us, that I sometimes feel I can’t possibly spend enough time outdoors. I always associate fresh, ripe blackberries and the sweet fragrance of May flowers with the first signs of rapidly approaching summer and the slow-building excitement that accompanies the winding down of yet another school year.

As such, it also feels like a time to get excited about adventures to come, as well as a time reflect on the year gone by and give thanks for those who have helped in our journeys, particularly our teachers. I’ve always appreciated my own teachers, but now that I’m a parent I’m even more aware of what a vital role they play in helping our children reach their potential.

This year is pretty special for us, as the oldest of my offspring will be “graduating” elementary school (sniff!) and moving on to the exciting world of middle school, with a brand new collection of challenges and opportunities. She’ll be starting a new school across town where she doesn’t know anyone, which seems pretty intimidating to me, but she seems surprisingly confident and eager to tackle whatever middle school throws her way.

For that I should probably thank the wonderful teachers and staff at Griggs Elementary School, who have devoted so much time and energy, and love, to shaping her into the bright young student she’s become. Noble is the calling that leads some folks to dedicate their lives to nurturing the growth and success of others.

There’s an awful lot about our culture that suggests we don’t value teachers nearly as much as we should, which is a shame. I can’t think of many roles as important as that of teacher. I’m sure even teachers themselves don’t always realize just how powerful an impact they have on some of the lives they touch, and I wish we all spent more time telling them.

There have been so many who have had made a difference to me, and one of the first that comes to mind is Coach Wright, my 10th grade science teacher, whose prolific use of sports analogies made it fun and easy to learn basic chemistry. An especially warm and laid-back teacher, Coach Wright was kind and patient with all of his students, but he made a difference with me by noticing my enthusiasm for science and eagerness to learn early in the first semester.

He took me aside to tell me he thought I had a special talent for chemistry and a bright future as a scientist, and spent the rest of the year enthusiastically cheering on my every success in and out of his class. It might not have seemed like much to him, but that little bit of extra attention and encouragement literally changed the way I looked at myself and my academic potential.

Although Coach Wright may have suspected there were problems in my life, I doubt he could have known I was growing up with a deeply troubled, abusive parent who made a sport of telling me I was stupid and destined to fail at life. This parent told me I’d always been weak in science and math, “like most girls,” and would likely only embarrass myself by pursuing my childhood dream of becoming a doctor.

Fortunately for me, that negative voice was countered by that of a warm and supportive mother who encouraged me to reach for the stars, but my more critical parent nevertheless left a lingering shadow of doubt in my young mind as to whether I, as an intellectually inferior female, had the capacity to excel at math and science.

Coach Wright could not possibly have known how much it meant to an insecure teenage girl to be told she had a knack for science, but he made his mark nonetheless. His enthusiasm for my future would help motivate me all the way through four years of studying chemistry and biology in college.

My interests ultimately pulled me in another direction, and I never did find my calling in science, but thanks to Coach Wright, I knew I could have done it had I wanted to. He believed in me at a time I needed it most, and that was enough to inspire me to believe in myself. I can only hope my own children continue to collect their own share of positive memories and enriching student-teacher relationships throughout their academic careers.

I feel so thankful for all of their wonderful teachers throughout the years, including the lovely ladies who have meant so much to my kids this past year; specifically Mrs. Booker, who inspired a love of learning in my second grader and a passion for math I hope he keeps for a lifetime, and Ms. Oschwald and Ms. Bohentin, who encouraged my daughter to believe in herself and look forward to the new challenges of middle school with excitement and enthusiasm.

They have all made such a tremendous difference in my kids’ lives and I’m so grateful for their dedication and sacrifice.

Please consider thanking a teacher today and letting them know how much you appreciate their service. At the very least, take a moment to quietly reflect on your gratitude for the special teachers who made a difference in your life. There can’t be many jobs more challenging, and they need to hear they are appreciated for the wonderful difference they make in the world.