Teacher, it is nearing the end of the year and you are tired. This is not just tired from a long day, this is tired from a long year, and you can see it in the bags under your eyes that you carefully conceal every morning when you face the mirror. State testing has finished. The pencils have been dulled, the booklets turned in, and, at this point, the scores will be what they will be. You are proud either way.

You are excited about having some time for yourself in the months to come -- time away from data meetings and instruction workshops, lesson plans, and sixty hands all reaching out in your direction. What you and I both know is that it will only be a week or two before you have materials and a hot glue gun sprawled out all across your kitchen table and your teaching partner on the other end of the phone discussing classroom decor and management strategies for the upcoming year.

Teacher, it is midnight, and you should really get some rest. I know you had tutoring sessions after school and still have to update your grade book and create the extra-credit assignment that some of your students are still holding out hope for. You stopped at the grocery store on your way home to pick up seven bags of candy, precisely counting that they will divide evenly, that there are no ingredients your students are allergic to, and that there will be enough to go around. You promised your students, didn't you, that when they finished testing they would get a reward? They all deserve one, just for showing up, anyway. When you got to the checkout counter and the cashier stared at you, you just explained that you are a teacher. They gave you the smile everyone gives you, one part sweetness, one part sympathy. You will finally turn out the lights at 2:00 a.m., yet still be seated at your desk at 7:30 a.m., ready to greet your students when they walk in.

Teacher, I don't blame you when you get angry and you need to raise your voice or when you get overwhelmed and you need to cry in your closet. I understand when you just could not bring yourself to get that lesson plan in on time or to make that early-morning meeting to discuss things that have already been discussed so many times. Sometimes you will hunt the halls for someone who has chocolate, or coffee, or maybe just a hug to pass out. It is okay that you let the Common Core Standards take a backseat for a day or two so you could make Christmas crafts with your students or simply discuss how they are feeling and the struggles they are dealing with in their own lives. You know it is hard on them too. I will never judge you for scheduling an extra movie day for some peace of mind or for tracking the best happy hour prices for margaritas in the city. You hold your tongue and you hold your bladder. You hold hands. You hold hearts. You are superhuman, but still human, and I appreciate you anyway.

There is so much pressure on you, Teacher, pressures beyond what others can see from the outside. It is easy to crumble beneath it, easier to walk away. You are asked to do so much with so little, often spending your own paychecks just to ensure your "kids" will have pens that write and snacks to eat when they missed breakfast. You are a counselor and an umpire, a party-planner and a professional organizer. You are asked to differentiate to meet every student’s needs, then to standardize when it is time to assess them. You are constantly critiqued. Administration and government officials walk in and out of your door evaluating your every move, ranking an entire year's work off of one or two moments in time. You have learned to deal with every type of personality with grace, how to plan down to the minute, and how to instantly alter that plan in accordance with every disruption. And, oh, have there been disruptions. There have been unannounced visits, broken copy machines, ceremonies and last-minute meetings, stomach viruses and bloody noses, new students halfway through the year and fistfights in the hallway. There have been students who talk back and students who crumple up their papers. You have stayed late and shown up early for parent-teacher conferences, and had to mark the same parent as a no-show once again.

You are asked often why you chose to become a teacher. You often even ask yourself this question. You may make jokes, "It wasn't for the paycheck," or reason with them, "I like my summers off," but you know that is not really why you chose this path. After all, you are trained in self-reflection, primed to recognize your weaknesses and your strengths, and also those of every student in your classroom. The real truth is simple and far from glamorous. One afternoon, you walked in and found an origami heart sitting in your chair, or a kind note lain across your desk. Your students remembered your birthday and they all signed your card or you can forever see the face of the little boy who came to you barely speaking English, when he discovered he finally made an “A” on his Reading test. "This is why," you remind yourself, even if those moments are few and far between.

Teacher, I appreciate you, long after Teacher Appreciation Week has passed and the desks are stacked in the corner and the doors are locked for the summertime. You have set the highest expectations for yourself as well as your students, and you will never settle for less. As the year comes to a close, I hope you stay inspired and I hope you take a vacation. May you always remember what I already know, that your passion for learning is opening minds and changing lives daily. In the fight for every child to have a better future, you, Teacher...you are always on the front line.

Teacher, here's to you.