A Teacher’s Legacy:
The Influence of Gratitude
By NAfME Member Dr. Lori Schwartz Reichl
“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”—Henry Brooks Adams
Many of my adult friends admit to experiencing symptoms of anxiety, depression, mental health issues, stress, and lack of sleep. Some experience all of these symptoms often, and others mention experiencing one or a few at a time during different seasons of life. With the holidays approaching, stress levels may increase which could potentially exacerbate these symptoms. What if a guaranteed, medicine-free method to reduce some of this despair existed? What if it costs nothing?
According to UCLA Health and other relevant research, “Practicing gratitude can enhance mental wellness and possibly promote a lasting change in perspective.” There can be noticeable health benefits when grateful practices are maintained for a predetermined amount of time each day or week. Intentionally being thankful can reduce depression, lessen anxiety, support mental health, relieve stress, and improve sleep.
In November 2018, I published an article in the teacher’s edition of In Tune Monthly Magazine titled, “Showing Gratitude: Make Real Contact by Giving Thanks, and Meaning It,” in which I encourage readers to reflect on the most influential people in our educational journey and write each of them a meaningful letter of thanks. My mother taught me the importance of writing thank you cards. She instilled in me that everyone enjoys receiving meaningful mail. Immediately after publishing the article, I followed this advice and wrote messages of thanks to a handful of my teachers from elementary through graduate school. I continue to do this with mentors, colleagues, friends, and family.
In the last few years, I have had the opportunity to reconnect with many former students including those I taught as middle and high school band members and private lesson musicians, and those I taught in graduate school as practicing educators. These former students have called me, emailed me, sent cards, or visited my home. We have spent time together at a park or met for a meal at a restaurant. I have witnessed some in their professional setting. I have visited them in the hospital or attended their bar mitzvah, Eagles Scout ceremony, graduation party, or wedding! Sadly, I have also attended many funerals—either for a student or for the parents of former students.
It is a joy to see these former students, learn where life has taken them, and discover what they remember or acquired from our educational time together. I am often shocked at how they have grown and matured, what path they have chosen or created, and how they show gratitude. I am thankful in return.
I have had the opportunity to reconnect with some of my former teachers, too. I recognize how elated they are when I contact them, visit with them, and show gratitude. I am also aware of how I feel after these encounters. My mood has improved. I feel motivated. I want to do more good deeds. Showing gratitude is powerful to both the receiver and the giver. The benefits are always positive.
At the age of 18, my stubborn young self didn’t believe I wanted to major in music in college. In the fall of 1997, I began studying business at Cabrini College, a small private institution that did not have music education as a degree. While there, I was introduced to Dr. Adeline Bethany, the college’s only music professor. My grandfather, Alfred Valentino Palmerio, was Dr. Bethany’s hairdresser at the time, and this coincidence began an immediate connection for us. Although I was never enrolled in a music course at the college, Dr. Bethany was an influential teacher to me. Dr. Bethany helped connect me to music opportunities in the area and guided my calling to study music as a major. A few semesters later, I transferred to another university to enroll in a music education program and unfortunately never saw Dr. Bethany again until 24 years later.
Recently, I contacted someone who used to work with Dr. Bethany and asked if they had a current email address or phone number for her. They shared her contact information with me. I reached out to Dr. Bethany during the summer of 2022 via email as I was scheduled to guest teach at Villanova University in Pennsylvania, not far from Cabrini. I let her know that I would be in the area in a few weeks and asked if I could take her to dinner one evening. She excitedly agreed! When I picked her up at her home for our dinner date, the then 86-year-old dazzled in her beautiful outfit and with the biggest smile said to me, “Thank you for remembering me.” Ironically, I thought the same about her! Instantly the image of my grandparents, my time at Cabrini, and the life I created flashed before my eyes. I was also overcome by a sense of gratitude.
At dinner, Dr. Bethany and I were excited to be together. We both shared how we met our husbands, started our families, earned our doctorates, and progressed through our careers. We realized we had a million connections! When I dropped her off at her home, she invited me inside, requested to view the syllabus of the course I was teaching, and asked if I could “teach” her a bit through one of my lectures. I tried so hard not to cry during that “lesson.”
A Need for Giving Thanks
As I watch my parents age, two amazing career-long educators, I recognize the isolation they feel at times. They are empty nesters, they live far from family, and they are not nearly as involved in activities or the community as they once were. Like many others, the pandemic alone was hard on them. Yet retirement has been difficult for them in similar ways, too. For teachers who are used to spending their days, and often decades, surrounded by many people each hour of the workday, the time away from the classroom upon resignation or retirement can be lonely and desolate. I can attest to feeling this way at times as well.
I have shared with my parents the joyful reconnections I have had with former students through the years. Recently, my mom made the comment, “I wish some of my former students would reach out to me.” It made my heart sink. Growing up, I remember former students of my parents visiting our home to show their gratitude or sending a card in the mail. The frequency of this has lessened tremendously through the years, especially since their retirement—a time when a familiar face, kind gesture, or grateful remark would be most appreciated and beneficial. From time to time, I will run into one of my parents’ former students, and they will ask for my parents’ phone number, email address, or mailing address. Sadly, few have followed through with these intentions to reconnect. From first-hand observation, I have witnessed how rekindled student-teacher relationships can be impactful. For the former students who do reach out, their teachers, particularly the older ones, are overjoyed. The former students are happy, proud, and nostalgic, too.
Could a need for gratitude be rewarding for the former teacher and the (now adult) student? Could showing gratitude reduce despair for both of them? Imagine the influence!
American Education Week
Each year, the week before Thanksgiving is appropriately celebrated as American Education Week. Each day of the week is designated with its own theme for which we are encouraged to celebrate our public school community. According to the National Education Association (NEA), “Festivities honor the team of people who work in our nation’s public schools, everyone from the bus driver and classroom teacher to the cafeteria worker and administrative staff, plus countless others.”
The legacy of a teacher, or any educational staff member, should not end when they leave the school, classroom, bus, court, field, cafeteria, or office. As American Education Week approaches, I encourage each one of us to also remember those who no longer serve in these crucial roles and recall how their influence has affected us. These “teachers” are still a lasting part of our school communities, regardless if they have moved on from these learning spaces. How can we show gratitude to them? How could this reconnection continue to shape us?
Two Kinds of Gratitude
“Two kinds of gratitude: The sudden kind we feel for what we take; the larger kind we feel for what we give.” – Edwin Arlington Robinson
Our educators and support staff give so much. As administrators, parents/guardians, and students we endlessly take from them—their time, energy, resources, lessons, and knowledge. By showing them gratitude, even decades after they have served us, we can give them the appreciation they deserve and may need. This generational gratitude may in turn influence our moods, motivate us in greater ways, and improve our health. I can’t think of a more lasting legacy than teachers still impacting their students years later.
Let us not wait until it is too late to contact those we would like to thank. Time is ticking on the clock of gratitude. American Education Week is November 13–17, 2023, but please don’t let this be the only week of giving thanks and exclusively to those who are currently serving our school communities. Let the legacy of our teachers and educational staff influence gratitude for a lifetime—both theirs and ours.
About the author:
NAfME member Dr. Lori Schwartz Reichl is a champion of mentorship and motivation. Her mission is to encourage individuals to reflect on our professional practices while making key changes to refresh strategies representing a shared vision to enrich the classroom, company, and community. Dr. Reichl is the author of hundreds of educational articles that have been reprinted with permission by more than 10 organizations worldwide. Dr. Reichl’s unique experiences have permitted her to expand her multifaceted career into a portfolio as a sought-after motivational speaker, educational consultant, and guest conductor. Her motto is “Embrace Uniqueness!” and she lovingly encourages everyone she meets to do the same.
The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) provides a number of forums for the sharing of information and opinion, including blogs and postings on our website, articles and columns in our magazines and journals, and postings to our Amplify member portal. Unless specifically noted, the views expressed in these media do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Association, its officers, or its employees.
November 7, 2023
- Music Education Profession
- Teacher Self Care
November 7, 2023. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)