Debra Messing and Crayola are changing the lives of teachers across the nation: 'Teachers are our unsung heroes'

Throughout our lives, educators teach us basic technical skills and information, but they also teach us so much more than that — they help fundamentally shape who we are, who we’re able to become and inspire us to take the steps towards becoming who we really want to be.

It’s easy to forget just how profound an impact our teachers can have on our lives as we go through the motions of early and higher education, oft forgetting to take the time to thank an educator for the positive changes they’ve made in the trajectory of our formal education, careers and personal lives.

Whether it’s something as seemingly insignificant as offering you an extension on a paper or staying with you during your lunch hour to give you extra help with a concept that you can’t quite wrap your head around, the little things that our teachers do for us add up to become the concepts learned that we carry with us, like empathy, patience and most importantly, a sense of belief in ourselves.

In honor of this sentiment, Crayola is rolling out the ‘Thank A Teacher’ campaign, which kicked off during National Teacher Appreciation Day on May 8.

The company, which is also celebrating its 115th anniversary, is aiming to get to one million ‘thank-yous’ to teachers all around the country by encouraging students — past and present — to make a shoutout on social media to teachers that have inspired them, using the hashtag #CrayolaThanks:

Emmy-award winning actress Debra Messing teamed up with Crayola on the launch of the campaign to thank the teacher who has impacted her life and career the most — her high school drama teacher, James Metcalfe:

“I think teachers are our unsung heroes. Growing up in Rhode Island, my teacher who is here with me today, Jimmy Metcalfe, besides inspiring me and giving me confidence and challenging me, he also validated my dreams. I think that teachers are the gatekeepers of our children. They spend the most time with our children and it’s an incredibly important job, and I think it’s a thankless job — I don’t think teachers get paid nearly enough. So the fact that there’s actually a National Teacher’s Appreciation Day, I think it’s amazing and I love that Crayola is doing this huge ‘Thank A Teacher’ campaign trying to get one million ‘thank-yous’.”

Messing recalls being cast in her high school’s production of ‘Annie’ (put on by Metcalfe) during her sophomore year of high school as a transformative moment for her — it was through Metcalfe’s dedicated support and faith in her that she was really able to consider acting as a legitimate part of her future:

“There were 125, 150 kids in every musical and it was once a year — it was a very big deal, and the leads always went to the seniors and I was a sophomore. [Metcalfe] cast me as Annie, and it was a turning point for me. For him to have that kind of faith in me and for him to do something that was not the norm, I felt like he was taking a risk with me. And I think it was a moment when I really felt his investment in me as a person, and he saw my dreams and he was wanting to validate them.”

Metcalfe was able to understand the gravity of Messing’s dreams and inspired her to make them tangible, something that she’s grown to realize and appreciate even more as she’s continued to blaze through her career as an actress.

As a lover of English and Spanish classes in high school ('math, not so much!'), Messing still uses the skills and interests that her teachers helped her hone in on today — especially in the acting world:

“I feel like I am a perpetual student — I don’t feel like I ever stopped. I think that as an actor, we draw on everything that we are touched by and that includes literature. And I think that I was instilled with a love of literature by my teachers when I was young, and a sense of curiosity. It’s a very powerful thing that’s self-motivating, if you’re instilled with curiosity. And that’s something that I try to protect in my son.”

The seeds of self-trust and inspiration that teachers plant in our hearts continue to blossom throughout our lives — they’re gifts that continue to give, and something that Messing is hopeful will be true of her son and his educators as he continues to grow:

“As a mom, I certainly have a keen appreciation for my son’s teachers. When you’re a student and you’re young, you can’t really understand the impact that the teacher is actually having on your life. But I can see it firsthand with my child, he has had some extraordinary teachers. His teachers right now in eighth grade are just incredible and they care and they’re smart and they’re challenging and they hold him up but also see him for who he is. And I think that that’s a very powerful thing for a child to feel from an adult who is not their parent or their caregiver.”

But we often forget that the students are in many ways teachers to their teachers themselves (how’s that for a tongue-twister?)

For Pennsylvania 2018 Teacher of the Year, Jennifer Wahl, this is especially true -- the lessons that her students at Loyalsock Township High School teach her can’t be studied in a textbook— and it’s what makes it all worth it:

“In 2011, I had a profound moment where I realized that my students have taught me humor, and that laughing my way through adversity is the best way to deal with my own problems … they teach me that everyday now. I try to look for something funny that they’ve done and I absorb that.”

It’s for this reason that if you ask Wahl what the best part about her job is, the answer is obvious:

“The kids! The kids are the most fun. I say to all of my colleagues, ‘Even if you’re having a bad day, go to work’ because when you get there there will be something to distract you and those kids will make your day feel like a million bucks.”

So whether it’s in the spirit of National Teacher Appreciation Day or a random day in the middle of a random month, take the time to thank someone who has made you feel like a million bucks, just by teaching you something about yourself that you didn’t even know you’d been dying to learn.