When is it too late to say thank you?

teacher thankyou years later

You might find this hard to believe, but I wasn’t a model student in my schooldays.

I know, right? 

But you know how it is. You grow up, you move away, you have a child of your own – and it’s easy to forget about school, really, isn’t it? Because who cares? Ancient history.

Except for when you’re me, and karma hates you. Because one of Flea’s new teachers? Is a woman who was my teacher for 5 years, and my form teacher for two of those years.

At the moment, I’m mostly hiding in the car at school, in case the teacher recognises me. Yes, thanks, I am aware that this is not rational.

First off, it’s been about 100 years since I was at school. And second, I am officially an actual grown-up and that particular teacher is no longer allowed to sprint after me through the school gates because I’m making a bid for freedom after being called to the headmistress’s office… again (true story).

But actually, a bigger part of me really wants to say thanks. Because that teacher actually made a huge difference to my life – even if I am was completely terrified of her.

As a teenager, I was dealing with a lot of … stuff. I’d spent eight years in foster care before I was adopted. During those teenage years I realised just how bloody unfair some of the things that had happened to me were. At the same time, I spent a lot of time convinced that if I caused too much trouble, maybe my parents would just decide to give me back.

So I acted out, as teenagers do.  There was truanting, and drinking, and a general buffet of self-destructive behaviour.

My form teacher was one of the only people I ever spoke to about the things I was too scared to say to my parents. She kept my secrets, including a couple that I’ve never shared with another soul.

She spoke up for me in meetings with people who wanted to kick me out of school. She had my back, even while she was being remarkably generous with the number of detentions she gave me. She once told me that, whatever I thought, she knew I wasn’t a rotten apple. Then she put me on report, which meant I had to have a teacher sign a little book to confirm I’d turned up to my lessons.

Thanks in large part to that teacher, I got to sit my exams. That meant I got to do my A-Levels, and get to university, and then to do a post-grad, and then to work in journalism. I ended up doing the job I’d wanted to do since I was seven years old.

I used to think, sometimes, about sending her a card to say thanks for what she did for me. But it felt weird. Awkward, maybe.

I worried that she’d hate to be reminded of that moody teenager who gave her all those fake absence notes (“Your Grandma died, again?”) and stashed those bottles of vodka in her locker. Or maybe she just wouldn’t remember at all – there must be so many kids, over a career. Does it matter if one person says thank you?

But now I think maybe it’s too late. Is there a guideline on how late is too late to say thanks? Thanks for having faith in me, when I didn’t have any in myself. Thanks for being a safe person to talk to. Thanks for keeping me on track – just enough – so I could get where I wanted to go. Thanks for being that person for me, and for countless other kids, I suspect.

Either way, I tell Flea, “Be good to her. She’s a great teacher.” And also, “Don’t ever try and run away from her. Because she’s way faster than you think.” 



Photo Credit: Annie Spratt/Unsplash





26 thoughts on “When is it too late to say thank you?”

  1. Awww, what a story. When someone makes such an impact on your life then I don’t think it’s ever to late to say thank you. A card, gift, bottle of vodka! Or just speak to her, see if she remembers you. I’m sure she would love it. It’s a shame we don’t realise at the time that those who are the hardest on us are the ones who really care and can help us to succeed. The teenage brain just doesn’t accept it.

  2. As a teacher myself it’s never too late! A thank you from you would make her day. She’ll be so proud to see how well you’ve done for yourself after such a difficult start in life.

  3. Agreed, it’s never too late. But I totally understand the wimping out too. There’s a teacher and a dinner lady at Libby’s school who were also there when I was there. They were both amazing. I’m too wimpy to speak to them because I’m sure they’ll have no clue who I am.

  4. This teacher right here says it’s never too late. I would LOVE to hear from some of the kids I’ve taught, the ones who challenged me, who I loved and cared about, who I did my very best for. I’d love to know that my efforts helped to keep them on the straight and narrow and that they appreciated what I’d done. As a teacher you give everything to your work and to know that someone still things about you all those years later must be really special.

  5. Never too late I reckon. I still have a thank you on the to-do list from 7 years ago, which I know is not quite as long, but still pains me. I’ll get around to it, one day, hopefully soon 🙂

  6. Definitely never too late. And actually I think there’s something even nicer about a thank you much later on. It means you’ve had time to really reflect, and you really mean what you’re saying. Do it!

  7. NEVER too late! When I decided to become a teacher at 25 I actually wrote a letter to my favourite teacher to ask her for advice and to tell her how she inspired me. Teaching can be quite a hard job and you often feel undervalued so any pupils saying I made a difference is amazing x

  8. Sally Whittle you are not a wimp! Come on now tell the im[act shes had on yours and Fleas life what a HUGE impact that will have (letters work if speaking its too hard) she’ ll be so delighted with the huge succes you have made of your life and parenting and the part she played. Let us know!

  9. I can only imagine the deep happiness of being thanked so many years later – to know you’ve been remembered so beautifully for all that time would be incredibly special. Get up off your chicken arse and go speak to her woman.

  10. Say thanks Sally, I don’t think it’s ever too late to say it to anyone who ever meant anything to you. As someone who was there with you for some of the time I know it was all difficult for you , and it’s great to see where your striving got you too. Makes me think we should really catch up next time I’m in your neck of the woods if we can make it happen… and I think you should show her this post. I think she’d be proud of what her belief produced.

  11. What a lovely story. I’ve just had the worst parents evening (and I’ve parented for 22 years) because one of his teachers was really quite horrid. And I like to see the good in everyone! I really wanted to think that even though she was being unfair and mean, she had his best interests at heart. But I don’t think she does. She doesn’t sound like YOUR teacher at all. Annoying. Anyway, I think it’s important to recognise when people HAVE cared and have made a difference, like your teacher did. It’s never too late, and I’m sure she’d be very proud of you.

    1. Oh that sounds so tough. I suppose sometimes there are personality conflicts and a bad teacher can’t see past that. It sucks for D though.

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