There are plenty of ways for teachers to think romantically about their chosen profession. We don't get paid all that much...this is basically social work for the overeducated...so the rewards have to come from elsewhere. Our ultimate dream is to, years from now, have former students tell us that our course changed their lives.
This has happened to me a few times, and it always knocks me out. However, if I'm to be honest, it doesn't happen all that much. Part of it is the nature of my position. When people are successes, they tend not to really think about the person who taught their "welcome to college" classes as major influences. It took a while, but I'm actually okay with my job's main feedback being either delayed or absent. It is, after all, my mission to plant seeds which, if they bloom, rise up sometime in the future...so I gotta be okay dealing with very little immediate gratitude for doing my job.
Still, though, it would be nice...and because of this (and something relatively perverse in my nature), I still tend to do the post-semester tally after my last class. This semester, one "happy holidays" and one "you have a nice semester too." But that's okay. Good work is its own reward. Right?