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On Teacher Appreciation Day, Debra Messing thanks HS teacher at Crayola event in NYC

For National Teacher Appreciation Day, Crayola, which was founded in New York City in 1903, invited Debra Messing, her high school drama teacher and others for a day of celebration.

In the New York City school district alone, there are about 75,000 teachers who influence more than 1 million students each school day. Nationwide, about 3.2 million teachers work in United States public school systems.

In honor of National Teacher Appreciation Day, Crayola wants to help people thank 1 million of those teachers, and actress Debra Messing helped kick off that goal on Tuesday in New York City.

In the Flatiron on Tuesday morning, Messing, best known for her role in "Will and Grace," publicly thanked Jim Metcalf, her high school drama teacher from East Greenwich High in Rhode Island. 

“I grew up in the rural suburbs … nobody from East Greenwich ever left to become an actress, so mine was a fantasy until I got to high school and met Jimmy,” she said on stage at the Crayola Teacher Appreciation Day event, in front of local teachers and students.

“Jimmy was the first person, who was not my mother, who validated my dream,” she added. “He was the one who said, ‘This isn’t crazy, you have talent,’ and he pushed me and challenged me and inspired me and made me work really, really hard.”

Though she grew up in Rhode Island, Messing said that it was important to her to thank Metcalf at this event in New York City and in front of a wider audience.

“It’s a nationwide day of celebration, and I just thought it was an extraordinary opportunity and privilege to have him come down from Rhode Island and honor him in this kind of grand way. He really deserves the spotlight,” she told Metro.

“Teachers are unsung heroes,” she continued, “and they don’t get nearly the kind of appreciation and attention that they deserve. They spend more time with our children than anybody else, and it’s an extraordinary responsibility that they have. They have the power to inspire and to lift up children, and that's what he did for me.”

Messing worked closely with Metcalf all through high school, from age 13 to 17 — musical rehearsals lasted two hours after school five days a week, she said. To Messing, that shows how Metcalf, and most teachers, go the extra mile when it comes to impacting kids.

Metcalf is still teaching, going on 42 years in his career, and Crayola awarded him with supplies for his school. The craft company, which was founded in New York City in 1903, also awarded visiting teachers from the tri-state area with $500 in Crayola school supplies as a token of thanks for their work.

Across the country, teachers have been striking over their long hours, small salaries and their inadequate classroom supplies. As a public school graduate, that was another reason Messing felt it was important to be a part of this New York City event.

“I read about teachers all over the country who are taking money out of their paycheck in order to provide paper and pencils, and it’s really unacceptable. Teachers don't get paid their value, not even close, and then on top of that to make it that much more onerous — it’s something that shouldn't be happening,” she said. “So today, it's really about celebrating teachers and saying we see you and we appreciate you, and Crayola is saying we want to help you.”

How to thank a teacher for Teacher Appreciation Day

At the Flatiron event, a screen displayed videos and tweets from across the country of thank you messages to teachers, and a video station allowed students to film their own thank you clips. If you missed those events, here are other ways you can thank a teacher for National Teacher Appreciation Day:

Share personal stories of how teachers inspired and influenced you on social media using the hashtag #CrayolaThanks.

Create a video to thank a teacher at crayolavideo.com.

Kids can submit handmade cards for their teachers for the chance to win prizes at thankyou.crayola.com. The winning note will be featured on a 64-count box of Crayola Crayons, while 10 winners will be awarded grand prize packs, which include a $10,000 classroom makeover, a one-year supply of Crayola products for the school and more.