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The letter from my daughter’s longtime piano teacher gave a start.  

“After being in the classroom for 31 years and working with children and youth for another nine-plus years, I have decided to retire at the end of this year,” wrote Debra Benson, who teaches at Charleston County School of the Arts (SOA). “As one of my colleagues said, ‘I have never worked as hard as I do at SOA,’ but every minute has been rewarding because of the students we serve.”

For six years, Mrs. Benson has been a steady influence, a reassuring fixture in our family’s life. It’s hard to imagine her not being at SOA during my daughter’s senior year.  

Her letter is a reminder, yet again, of how our nation’s teachers are too often taken for  granted — and how we need to thank them, over and over, for their work of molding young minds. They generally don’t get paid enough. They often don’t get the tools they need. And they have to put up with a lot of bureaucracy, paperwork, long hours and nonsense from students. Despite it all, they stick to it.

Ann-Marie Fairchild, an SOA math teacher, recalls weeping after getting a touching letter that provided the affirmation she needed early in her teaching career.

“She wrote about how learning to solve problems in algebra helped her to learn how to problem-solve in life: discerning the most important information, developing a plan, figuring a solution, then evaluating the solution for flaws. She went into great detail in her letter about how this translated into her tragic life circumstances — how math helped her to have hope. She also thanked me for the time I invested in her, making her feel loved and a part of a classroom family.”

Other teachers shared what it felt like to get thanked.

“Having students come back to thank me for inspiring them to become health and fitness professionals is a rewarding feeling,” said Brian Johnson, a physical education and health teacher at SOA. “When this happens, I feel more purpose in teaching.”

Christopher Selby, an orchestra teacher at the North Charleston high school, added, “Recently I had a former orchestra student write me to say that he was a little sorry he was such a cut up in my class over a decade ago. But, he wanted to write to me to say that he is now a music teacher, and he thanked me for all that I taught him. This is one of the most rewarding aspects of teaching. We pour so much of ourselves into our students, and maybe they are too young to appreciate it at the time, but they recognize it later, and they come back to say thank you.” 

Several years back, I contacted my favorite teacher, Frances Scott, in Jesup, G.A., to share the impact she had on me as a fourth grader. Not only did I get a letter back, but she inspired me again to do better. She died a few years later, which made me extra-glad that I let her know how important she remains.

With the end of school around the corner, think back to your learning career and find a teacher or two who meant the world to you. Make their day by letting them know now. Not only will it make you feel good, it will give them a huge boost.

“The best compliment in the world is a parent who tells you ‘my child would not have graduated without you,’ said Sherry East, president of the S.C. Education Association. “Several of those students keep in touch and to know you had a hand in shaping their lives is what it’s all about!”

Thank you, Debra Benson, and thanks to all of South Carolina’s teachers. Keep up the good work.

Andy Brack is publisher of the Charleston City Paper. Have a comment?  Send to: