Showing appreciation is a powerful and yet basic act of human decency. When it comes from the heart instead of the head, both the person showing the appreciation and the recipient are renewed and validated and enriched.

There is an important time of thanks that is celebrated in the first week in May: Teacher Appreciation Week. Although it’s not as widely celebrated, every day should be a Teacher Appreciation Day throughout the globe.

When Great Oaks Elementary School’s All-Star staff take turns standing in the Central Texas rain, sun, and cold directing traffic so all our children are safe and then go inside to educate them, you know we all are blessed beyond words. Mr. Scott Morgan, you are wonderful! Cedar Valley Middle and McNeil High schools staffs, thank you for helping educate our children with so much passion and dedication.

“Teacher appreciation is a very important way for us to recognize their efforts. We should always remember that without them there will be no professionals, no architects, lawyers, doctors, engineers, priest, nuns, and all other professions,” according to a blogger named Scopionmagnet.

Teaching is a labor of love. Very few go into it for money. Teachers by and large go into education for the love of students and from a sense of hope for the next generation. Only in the teaching profession do we have dedicated workers whose work means so much, and yet society rewards them so meagerly.

Teachers are heroes, if you ask me. Not every teacher is extraordinary, but most of them are worth more than their weight in gold. If teachers in the western world work for one dollar today, their counterparts who taught many of us in Africa in the 1960s, 1970s and perhaps 1980s, worked for pennies.

The more I think about the working condition of our teachers in Nigeria in the days when I was growing up, the more I appreciate what those teachers did for me and my fellow students. Even the teachers we thought were mean to us (because they disciplined us when we deserved it), we now have come to understand were good teachers who meant well and wanted us to be successful adults.

They were not well paid, and even their small paychecks were sometimes withheld for months on end. They did not have credit cards or the means of getting loans. They did not have a safety net to tide them over until the month’s end. They had no modern lavatory near their dilapidated staff room. They had no kitchenette or microwave or refrigerator. They had no parking lot because most of them could not afford a car. They had no health insurance to speak of because the government did not care.

And even after these fine educators retired, they must jump through Sisyphean hoops to receive their retirement checks. It is dehumanizing. Frankly, they worked tirelessly for an ungrateful government and society who benefited from their productive years, only to chase them out to the wolves in their old age. They worked hard to advance humanity.

So let me now say thank you very much to Okom Mazi, Okom Bernard Elendu, Messrs Abaegbu, Ota, Onuoha, Ibe, Mbagwu, Abosi, “Aghara Aghara”, Enwere, Principal Ogbonnaya, Mrs. Igbokwe (Dan Fodio Road Primary School, Aba, 1973/1974,) and others. Wherever you may be today, please know I appreciate everything you did for me. And I mean it from the bottom of my heart. The older I get the more I appreciate you. And in the unfortunate event that you have passed on, I want your surviving spouse and children to know you made a monumental difference in my life and the lives of my fellow students.

You taught us all so well, and equipped us with knowledge (albeit in substandard classrooms and schools without electricity and running water and sophisticated laboratories and libraries) that we are still able to compete with others of diverse backgrounds on the global stage. We are doing it not because we are any better than anyone else, but because you taught us to believe we are as good as our peers anywhere on earth. We are succeeding for our families, and in honor of those teachers who were so kind to give us their all. Regardless of our current situation, we are better of because of our former teachers.

For the teachers from the past era who happen to read this article, take joy in knowing that your students cherish, honor, and appreciate you in their grateful hearts. For those entering and continuing in the teaching profession, dare to make a lasting impression in the lives of your students so that they too will remember you the way you remember your own teachers; fondly, with gratitude, and with respect.

Teachers shape our destiny. How great would it be if each one of us made an effort to find some of our former teachers and thank them for the difference they have made in our lives. It would be wonderful to take tokens of gratitude with us. We might be surprised when the teacher values the recognition more than any material gift. You too might come away from this gracious embrace feeling renewed and fulfilled, having had a chance to show appreciation to the teacher who gave you so much without expecting anything in return. Go ahead and try it. These former teachers are rarely visited by their former students who have moved on, or are overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of life to turn around and say a few words of thanks to these heroes.

Whether you are a stay-at-home mother or father, the president or a nurse or a doctor or an engineer, a taxi driver or college professor, a trader or a business tycoon, take time to tell your former teachers that you are grateful for their service to you and to society.

This is “baby step” work in progress for me. The last two times I was in Nigeria, I surprised one of my high school teachers with a visit. On the first visit, he did not recognize me after 20-plus years of separation. I went to his village and asked around until I was directed to his house. He welcomed me and people who accompanied me with that unmistakably African lavish hospitality, pun intended. You see he taught History in those days; he taught us about Mansa Kan Kan Musa. He taught about winning “people with lavish hospitality and open-handed generosity.” Most History majors of that era will remember that quote.

He offered us powder (nzu), colanuts, and drinks. He still did not know who we were. We greeted his wife without saying who we were. His wife knew many of us in the dormitory because she was a surrogate mom to all of us in those days. My once energetic and strong teacher is now a bit older and his eyes were beginning to dim, but he still had his swagger and intellectual disposition. He looked good. I wish to be that lucky.

As the suspense reached crescendo and I gathered enough courage to speak in the presence of a giant, a real hero to me and many, I asked him if he knew who I was. He said no, as his wife was nearby watching and listening. Before telling him my name and the names of the people that accompanied me to his village, I thanked him for being my teacher and my mentor. I told him how he helped me growing up at Methodist College, Uzuakoli. I thanked him for helping save my life by taking me in his car to Uzuakoli General Hospital when I fell ill during WAEC examination in 1979. I told him I loved and appreciated everything he did for me, including when he gave me a memorable spanking one time my behavior merited such correction. Of course, by that time I had lost it: tears where pouring down my cheek, my eyes were red and my lips quivered. I told him thank you, thank you, thank you, sir! As I tried in vain to regain my composure, I joked by saying, I was not there with my posse to exercise any revenge for the spanking! And everyone laughed.

I asked again if he remembered who I am yet, and he said no again. This time, tears turned into laughter. I was beginning to feel embarrassed. I had come to see my teacher, who I had been bragging about to my friends, and he did not recognize me. And those same friends were watching the whole thing unfold. Then I understood. You see, he helped so many students during his career, and he did it without keeping notes to later beat his chest about. He was just being a teacher, a heroic one at that.

His wife knew who I was when I told the story of being taken to the hospital by her husband, my teacher. Finally, I told him my name and introduced my friends.

My teacher asked me what I have been up to. He asked about my family and where I lived. I told him that I was married with children and where we lived. I told him we were in a hurry to get home before it got dark and that I would be back to see him every chance I get. And I kept my word the next time I was in Nigeria.

He said that before I left I must break bread. When I insisted that we had to leave, he took us to his neighbors and introduced me as his “student who came all the way from America” to see him, with emphasis on “my student”. He was so proud that one of his students remembered him. He did not care about any token, he was just happy that I was there to see him. I wish you could have seen his face and his demeanor as we left his village. The visit meant a lot to him but it means even more to me to this day.

I came away from this experience more humbled and more full of gratitude. As happy as he was his student came to see him, I benefited more from the whole exchange; so much so that I plan to make this a regular pilgrimage every time I am in Nigeria.

My experience made me think about the happiness we all could generate through this simple but mutually beneficial act. It should be done with regularity instead of rarity. You don’t have to take much or anything with you to the visit. Your former teacher will be overjoyed to know you are well and that you remembered. Just find one or two of your former teachers now in retirement and surprise him or her with a “thank you” visit. Like any cheerful act, you will benefit more than your former teacher.

Maybe today’s students will observe you during your visit or hear about it and emulate you and remember their teachers after graduation. Yes, teachers get paid for teaching, but they go beyond the call of duty to raise productive and lucky people like you and me. They do it because they want something better for future generations.

Finally, our teachers should be honored and treasured and appreciated while they (and we) are alive. Appreciation is best expressed in life, not in eulogy.

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