Teacher Tribute

By Kate Kellner Junk  – This was the title of last week’s episode of “Top Chef Masters,” where the remaining chefs were asked to create a special meal in honor of some incredible teachers in the L.A. Unified School District.

One of these teachers, Carlos Lauchu, has his middle school students passing A.P. science tests–whoa!–but that wasn’t the biggest thing that struck me in this episode.

I was most touched by the comments the chefs had about the teachers they were cooking for, and teachers in general.

The comment that most resonated with me was: “Our society doesn’t put teachers on a pedestal where I feel like they should be”

I don’t necessarily think teachers belong on a pedestal–they should be approachable–but I do think the recognition of teachers is immensely important. After all, everyone wants to feel appreciated, especially when they are working a job that requires them to give so much of themselves.

That’s why I found this article so interesting. I do believe that teachers should be respected and appreciated more often than just once a year, and the author provides some great ideas for how we can build a culture of appreciation in our schools.

The one thing I would add, however, is that sometimes we need to be on the lookout for when we are being appreciated. I’ve only ever worked with high school students–mostly 9th and 10th graders–and I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve gotten an outpouring of appreciation from them. Teenagers aren’t exactly known for expressing their gratitude, but I can find a moment in each day of my teaching career where, if I looked with a more careful eye, my students were expressing their appreciation with their actions, rather than their words.

Whenever a student: picked up trash that wasn’t theirs, stayed after to clean up my boards, passed out papers, or brought in a box of Kleenex so I didn’t have to go to the store again, they were telling me they appreciated me.

Whenever a student: told me about their weekend without me asking, showed me pictures of their new sibling/niece/nephew, invited me to a birthday party or ran over to say hello when I attended a sporting event, they were telling me that I was an important part of their life.

Whenever a student: gave me a high five, or hugged me, or reached out to hold my hand during the Lord’s Prayer at mass, they were telling me that they loved me.

Whenever a student: invited me to their concert, or showed me the A on a test they got, or ran to show me their college acceptance letters, they were telling me that it was important that I was proud of them.

Whenever a student confided in me, or asked for my advice, they were telling me that they trusted me.

Teaching may seem thankless at times, but be on the lookout… Appreciation is being shown more often than you think.


Kate Kellner Junk was born in Brooklyn, NY, and was raised in Fox Lake, Illinois. She grew up surrounded by the education profession, as her mother worked as a special education teacher and her father served as a social worker in an alternative middle/high school.  After attending Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein, IL, Kate graduated from Marquette University with a degree in mathematics. After graduation, she worked as a special education teacher at Pulaski High School (MPS) and, most recently, a math teacher at St. Joan Antida High School (Archdiocese of Milwaukee). She currently lives in Milwaukee with her husband, Luke, (Business, ’08) and her son Nate (born August 2013).

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