May 6-10 marks National Teacher Appreciation Week

Oprah Winfrey credits her for helping the “Queen of Talk” get to where she is today.

A veteran of three space missions, Ed Lu remembers him for teaching the NASA astronaut all about hard work and perseverance.

From heroes in space and in the sports arena, from celebrities to community leaders, from high-achieving entrepreneurs to everyday individuals, everyone has a story about the teachers who helped shape their lives, define their dreams, expand their horizons and launch their futures toward the stars.

This entire week, we can all take a little time to think of — and thank — the men and women who stand in front of the whiteboards and chalkboards, and helped us in ways big and small become who we are today.

Many of us took it for granted that our teachers would always be there for us. What we never saw was what went on when the bell had rung and the school buses had long left the empty parking lots and driveways.

The late nights grading papers. The weekend trips to load up on inadequate school supplies — using their own money. The delayed drive home to spend a few extra minutes giving guidance to a student or helping solve a stubborn problem. The quiet pride and satisfaction teachers get for every life they affect in a positive way. These are just some of the unsung activities many teachers know firsthand that we rarely see.

“Teachers are often the ones who inspire us the most,” Winfrey said, recalling her fourth-grade teacher, Mary Duncan, at Wharton Elementary School in East Nashville, Tenn. “I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without my fourth-grade teacher, Ms. Duncan. She so believed in me, and for the first time, made me embrace the idea of learning. I learned to love learning because of Ms. Duncan.”

Winfrey’s story is an American success story. She rose from childhood poverty and nearly every childhood hardship imaginable to become a one-woman media empire and among the most influential individuals in modern history.

Thanks, in large part, to Ms. Duncan.

Across the nation, that bond between teacher and student can be seen everywhere in public schools, multiplying over time and across generations. Youth, learning, imagination and wonder all meet for the first time in a classroom and, through teachers, become the spark that can light communities and the nation.

Because of teachers’ universal impact, Eleanor Roosevelt persuaded the 81st Congress this week 60 years ago to recognize the contributions of America’s frontline educators. This year, Americans in cities, towns and rural communities all over the nation will be celebrating National Teacher Appreciation Week from May 6-10. On Tuesday, they will hold special events to honor educators on National Teacher/School Family Day.

What else can we do to honor our teachers? Parents can sign a pledge of support, and educators and school staff can upload photos of inspired teaching, by going to www.nea.org/teacherday.

The website also shares innovative ideas to show appreciation for teachers, from thanking them on electronic bulletin boards and holding small receptions for them, to decorating teachers’ lounges with balloons and flowers, to hosting contests and charitable activities in their honor.

We can also post encouraging messages for the teachers who made a difference in our lives on Twitter, using the hashtag #thankateacher.

National Teacher Appreciation Week is an outstanding opportunity to not only thank teachers for their commitment to their students and creating great public schools. It also gives us a chance to encourage talented young people to consider the rewarding, intellectually challenging and potentially life-changing teaching profession.

“Don’t doubt the impact your voice can have,” said Washington science teacher Jeff Charbonneau, the 2013 National Teacher of the Year, about the power of teaching and public education.

Be sure to thank a teacher this week, and then mark your calendars — Nov. 22 is Education Support Professionals Day, when we honor all of the ESP members who work hard every day to make sure our kids are safe, healthy and ready to learn.