Mere prose cannot express the gratitude we feel toward our teachers for their heroic, life-changing work over the past year.
But a song just might.
In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week (May 3–7, 2021), Donald Gee, a Class of 2016 Eagle Scout from Iowa, brought together 100 students from across the nation to record “Thank You Teachers,” a song he wrote to recognize “all the teachers who have made such a difference” both before and during the pandemic.
Gee started writing the song as a way to recognize his mom, Jeannie Gee, who has been teaching in Des Moines, Iowa, since 1989.
“My mom is a great teacher inside and outside the home. She makes each kid feel special, and you can see it in the way that students will run up to her and give her a big hug,” Gee says. “As a mom, she’s just as great. It’s incredible how she was able to help so many kids learn so much during the day and then turn around and help me with my homework at night.”
As the songwriting process evolved, Gee decided to broaden the focus to teachers who have helped him and others laugh, learn and grow.
“This past school year has challenged everyone — students, parents, teachers and administration,” Gee says. “The transition to virtual teaching wasn’t easy. Teachers have spent hours planning, giving supports to students and families, and then changing at a moment’s notice.”
After Gee wrote a couple of drafts of the song, a friend connected him with Kendrick Dean, a former high school history teacher who became a Grammy-nominated producer for artists like Mariah Carey, Usher and Destiny’s Child.
“He really connected with the idea, and we got together with a piano and worked on the melody, words and harmony to take the song to the next level,” Gee says. “This song, for me, is a community service project. I wanted to use music to encourage students to thank their teachers.”
Spreading the love
Gee knew the message would be even more powerful if it came from as many voices as possible. So he invited students from across the country to join the virtual choir.
The request was shared on social media by groups like the American Choir Directors Association, the National Association for Music Education and Atlanta Public Schools.
Gee’s invitation was heard loud and clear. He received submissions from coast to coast, and their voices unite in the finished product that Gee posted to YouTube. Take a listen.
Songs, Scouting and STEM
Donald Gee became an Eagle Scout in 2016 as a member of Troop 98 of Johnston, Iowa, part of the Mid-Iowa Council.
He started writing songs when he was 14 and has continued doing so ever since. While some people feel like they have to choose between school, Scouts and extracurriculars like music, Gee found time for all three.
Now a student at Georgia Tech, Gee continues to write music while also working toward a career in civil engineering and sustainability.
He’s stayed connected to Scouting, too, as a member of a student group that brings together former Scouts on campus. Gee has performed his own songs about Scouts at events like the 2019 World Scout Jamboree, the first National Rover Moot in Nepal and the Railroad Camporee in Iowa.
Why teachers matter
But Gee insists that he’s not the story here. Teachers are.
From the moment he watched his mom make math fun through events like the “Roundin’ Up Numbers Rodeo” and the “Math is a Picnic” picnic, he’s seen teachers use their creativity to change lives.
“By thanking your teachers, you are recognizing that their time has value and that they have helped you develop,” Gee says.
It’s well documented that teachers aren’t paid as much as they should be. For many, some of that “payment” comes from seeing students smile when a difficult lesson clicks at last.
That ah-ha moment, Gee says, can be lost when learning is remote.
“That makes it especially important that we come together to show how much we appreciate the work that teachers put into keeping schools going,” Gee says.
Scouts can continue to participate in Gee’s “Thank You Teachers” campaign by sending appreciative messages to their teachers. They could even include a link to Gee’s video if they wish — a sentiment delivered like only a song can.
“I think that many students realized this year how much they really do enjoy school, especially the student-teacher interaction,” Gee says. “So when you go back to class, stay positive, because there are so many good things about school.”
Thanks to Kaushal Gokare for the blog post idea.