How to thank a teacher who hugely impacted me in the past?
August 20, 2016 11:33 AM   Subscribe

About ten years ago (in grade school), I had an amazing teacher who had a huge, extremely positive impact on my life. I've seen him a few times since then, but never really thanked him for everything he did for me. How do I now say THANK YOU/give a thank you gift without being awkward about it?

I no longer live in the same city - however, I am in town at the moment and would like to drop by and say hi. However, I am not very good at expressing sentiments in person (i.e., I wouldn't be able to just go up to him and say, "thanks for being an incredible teacher; you really changed my life in X, Y, and Z ways!"). So, I'd like to take a small gift with me or mail it to him/the school later.

Let me say that I definitely do not want to give anything money-related (no gift cards, cash, etc.). My current ideas are as follows:

(1) Give him a (previously owned and cherished) book of mine, which relates to something that we both share and have discussed - the book would be for his young daughter, not for him, since it's something I really enjoyed at her age (but I've since outgrown the book). I'd probably add a short inscription to her. It's on a fun topic, nothing serious. However, I haven't met the daughter (I have just seen pictures on Facebook since I'm Facebook friends with him) so I'm not sure if this is weird and/or if this gift is too personal.

(2) Give him a thank you card/note. I could either take it with me and hand it to him or just mail it later.

(3) Both of the above (probably what I'm leaning toward right now unless someone on here tells me that this is a bad idea).

(4) Neither of the above. Are the above ideas weird and/or awkward??? I don't want to make him feel uncomfortable. I guess I could also take a more neutral gift like a box of chocolates or something, but in general I prefer giving gifts with more personal meaning...

I should mention that he definitely remembers me, so that's not an issue. To give some context, he was a fantastic teacher not only because of his teaching, but also because he supported me at a very difficult time in my life and helped me deal with a lot of personal issues. Frankly he was more like an older friend/mentor than a "teacher" as per se. If we hadn't had that personal connection I would not even consider gift #1.

Also, just to put this out there: I'm female and there's only about a 10 year age difference between us - I ABSOLUTELY want to avoid looking like I'm hitting on him or anything like that.

Sorry for all the text... I just want to do this right since he helped me so much and I never really acknowledged it. Thank you!
posted by tango! to Human Relations (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I think the gift+letter idea is lovely but is there a reason you wouldn't buy the kid a new book? Personal copies are... very personal, in a way that might read as strange or inappropriate given that the kid is actually a stranger to you. From a stranger, it's basically a used book; from a friend, it's a very intimate thing that might just possibly read oddly, if anyone thought you might have a crush. So personally I'd get the kid a new version of the book. And the letter is even more important.
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:59 AM on August 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Just a thank you note is totally fine. You could even just message him on Facebook if that's easier. I'm 41 and actually just searched out my seventh grade English teacher on Facebook to do the same thing, because I regret not telling my high school science teacher how much I enjoyed her classes before she died unexpectedly earlier this year. A sincere thank you is never weird.
posted by MsMolly at 12:06 PM on August 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

Just a letter or card is sufficient.
posted by k8t at 12:07 PM on August 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

Former teacher here-- receiving a simple, heartfelt note from a former student would mean the world to me and would have much more meaning and impact than any gift you could buy!
posted by bookmammal at 12:13 PM on August 20, 2016 [13 favorites]

Current teacher here--yes, a nice, simple thank you note or card is just the thing.
posted by Gotanda at 12:16 PM on August 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

100% it's the note that matters. I am a teacher and the hand written, personal letters and cards I have from students are very precious to me. It's always wonderful to get them.
posted by Heloise9 at 12:17 PM on August 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

A card or letter is perfect. Giving a gift for the kid is a little awkward since you don't know her.
posted by ktkt at 12:30 PM on August 20, 2016

Thanks for the input! Note/card it is, then.

While I have you all here -- how personal is appropriate for the content of a note like this? Is it weird/inappropriate to note or reference specific examples of how the person helped you and what you're thankful for? Or are you recommending slightly more generic notes saying "thank you for all you've done", etc.? Again, I think I was partly drawn to the gift-for-kid idea because I thought that was in some ways less personal than writing everything down in a note to him. Maybe I'm just overthinking things, though!
posted by tango! at 12:36 PM on August 20, 2016

I've sent a letter like this to a professor of mine who didn't even remember me (giant lecture hall, ten years later) and I included specific examples about how what she taught me helped - and she absolutely was appreciative and we wrote a few nice emails back and forth and she told me how I had made her so happy to hear about it all. So, I think you can definitely be specific in your letter!
posted by umwhat at 12:39 PM on August 20, 2016

Just anecdotally: my most-beloved teacher (6th grade; I'm in my late 40s) is now an old man, and on Facebook. He never married or had kids of his own, and a bunch of us former students are his FB friends. I make it a point to connect with him there, to respond to stuff he posts, etc. This is my way of paying him back.
posted by BlahLaLa at 12:42 PM on August 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Another current teacher. Yes, specifics! I recently received a thank-you letter from a former student that explained in detail how my class had helped him in his own teaching career. That was such a great gift! Like Heloise9, I keep letters like those and read them again to remind myself that I have a pretty good job--especially on days when it doesn't seem like it. Do give examples of what you did/do because of that teacher's lessons and/or advice. It will be greatly appreciated.
posted by pangolin party at 12:44 PM on August 20, 2016 [6 favorites]

I'm another teacher. I think it's great to include specifics in the note if you are comfortable! Cards/notes from my former students completely make my day. :)
posted by rainbowbrite at 1:03 PM on August 20, 2016

Former teacher here, and I can tell you that in the teacher's room, the older teachers frequently went on reminiscence binges for students they had years ago.

That said, they also had gaps in memory, because, hey, it sucks to get old. So be specific. "When you did 'x' it meant a lot to me."

I've done a project (mental note, need to pick this back up) where I've sent people thank you notes and I always include very specific details and how I feel because it makes it very personal and intimate. "Hey, you were a great teacher" is empty. "When you took time to start the Erasmus club and bring in interesting speakers, I felt honored and cared for because you had created a safe haven for the nerds."
posted by plinth at 1:53 PM on August 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Every teacher I have ever worked with treasures correspondence like yours from former students. And yes, as others have said, if you can share what meant so much to you, it's truly appreciated.
posted by Lynsey at 2:58 PM on August 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've taught over 2000 students so far in my 25+ year teaching career, so I would definitely say that the more detail you can provide about how he helped you, the better. I love receiving correspondence from former students. To hear from them that they are doing well, that's all I'd ever want - no gift at all.
posted by NoraCharles at 4:17 PM on August 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

I recently emailed my high school Math teacher (25 years later) after having a conversation with friends about teachers who made a huge impact on our lives. I found his email address via the school website - he's still there. I gave specific examples - not because I thought he wouldn't remember me, but just because I wanted him to know what it was that he did that made the difference - I also told him what I'm doing now and how that wouldn't have happened without his support. He emailed me back a week later to thank me for my kind words, that he was glad to know that I was doing well and was happy, and told me about his imminent retirement plans. I got the feeling that he was always really pleased to hear from former students! (Especially because being a Math teacher is a tough gig...) No need for a gift.
posted by finding.perdita at 3:18 AM on August 21, 2016

I found an elementary-school teacher on Facebook and made a public post on his timeline for the 25-year anniversary of when he started teaching me (which happened to be his first class ever). I said a little about how his class was meaningful to me, and gave a very brief update on where I graduated from and what I've been doing. I felt this was better than sending anything in the mail — it got tons of effusive comments, and now he gets the benefit of not only seeing my note but also knowing that his friends/family realize he makes a real impact on his students.
posted by John Cohen at 6:57 AM on August 24, 2016

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