Personal Story

I Wrote a Thank You Note to My Favorite Teacher as an Adult—Here’s Why You Should Too

written by KATHY SISSON
teacher thank you"
teacher thank you
Source: ColorJoy Stock
Source: ColorJoy Stock

Do you remember your favorite teacher growing up? Maybe it was your warm kindergarten teacher, a middle school coach, or a supportive college professor? At some point, a teacher likely built up your confidence, made you feel important, or sparked a passion you still have today. Maybe they cross your mind often. Or maybe something sparks a memory of a lesson they taught you many years earlier. Have you ever thought about letting your favorite teacher know they’re still having an impact on you, even as an adult?

Enter another way to celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week: Reach out to a former teacher and say thank you. It’s a low-lift way to let some of the most important yet under-recognized folks in our communities know they’ve made an impact long after their students left their classrooms. I’ve now done it twice, and let me tell you, the experience is 10/10, highly recommended. Here’s how I found my old teachers, what happened when I did, and why you should consider thanking a former teacher in your life.

Remembering My Teacher’s Impact

Writing was always my passion, but it wasn’t how I started my career. Rather, writing always percolated in the back of my mind as something I wanted to do, but only came out in journal entries, handwritten cards, or passionate Yelp reviews. When I decided to pivot from what I went to school for—marketing—to writing as a career five years ago, one specific thing helped give me the confidence to try. I remembered encouraging notes my high school English teacher wrote on a number of my essays. “You have to do SOMETHING with your writing,” she’d said (and I don’t think by “something” she meant Yelp reviews). 

That little bit of encouragement gave me the confidence to hit “submit” on my first original article. And after I had a portfolio of writing I was proud of, I decided to track her down and say thank you. The experience was so rewarding that I ended up doing it again with another favorite teacher a few years later. 

How I Found My Former Teacher

Trying to track down a former teacher was easier than I expected. In both cases, I started by writing the administration at my old school. I understood they likely wouldn’t be able to give me my teacher’s contact information directly but asked them to pass on my note, which they did.

Here’s part of what I wrote:

Dear [Name],

Writing today to see if you might pass along a note to [Teacher’s Name], who was my writing teacher in 1997-1998 at [School]. She once wrote on one of my papers that I needed to “do something” with my writing. That statement stuck with me for nearly two decades, and this past September, I finally took her advice... I’m not sure where I’m going to take writing next, but I wanted [Teacher’s Name] to know that her encouragement in that class has been in the back of my mind all this time. And if I ever write a book someday, she’s my dedication.

Here’s what I heard back from my favorite teacher:

Imagine my surprise! I was delighted to receive your note with your sensational news. Congratulations! Good for you! I am so proud of you!

And it was so kind of you to take the time and make the effort to find me! I can’t stop using exclamation points!Anyways, I loved hearing from you, and I wish you all good luck with your future articles.

Lots of love

thanking a former teacher
Source: Elevae Visuals

What I Learned From Thanking My Teacher

Gratitude Should Be a Bigger Part of My Life

“I can’t stop using exclamation points!” I mean, how cute is she? I couldn’t stop smiling after I received this email back from my beloved teacher—and you can probably surmise from her note why she was such a special person. As a millennial and eldest daughter, getting external validation from a teacher in adulthood gave me a jolt I didn’t realize I’d been missing. It also made me realize I should express my gratitude in other things—and toward other people. Practicing gratitude is always a net positive.

Gestures Don’t Have to be Grand to Make an Impact

Social media is full of heartwarming stories of teachers who go above and beyond—from donating a kidney to a student to adopting and raising one as part of their family. I love reading these stories, too, but those are the headline-makers. So many of the meaningful moments are smaller and unrecognized, except by the student affected—the extra help when you’re struggling, the emotional support when you’ve been through something hard, the safe space to be yourself… the encouraging notes written on your school papers. These little gestures can have a big impact.  

So, if you choose to reach out to your former teacher, you don’t have to share one of these headline-making moments. Your teacher may not even remember what happened back then, but I guarantee they’ll appreciate receiving your thank you note, and they’ll remember how you made them feel now.

I Appreciate My Kids’ Favorite Teachers Even More

With two kids moving through elementary school, I’ve found teachers to be an important part of my parenting village. They’ve seen it all and can offer suggestions and support, especially when I’m at a loss to handle tough situations—and tough math homework.

My kids’ teachers have already made impressions on them, and I wonder what they will want to write to their favorite teachers decades from now. Will there have been a meaningful moment I didn’t even know about? Something my kids never told me when I asked, “How was school?” and they told me it was “Fine”? Who knows. In the meantime, I’m making sure their teachers know how much I appreciate them now.