Sunday, May 1, 2016

Dear Teachers of My Children

Dear Teachers of My Children,

This past week alone, I've seen evidence of the impact you make on the lives of my kids.  I see it when I open my inbox or their Friday folders (a task that always happens late on Sunday evenings... and certain Monday mornings) and read your weekly recaps.  I see the papers that are checked, the stickers that are awarded, and the notes that are written.

What I don't see, of course, is the hundreds of moments that comprise any given school day.  I can only imagine those.  I imagine an elementary classroom full of students all needing something from you at the exact same time, much like when my own children seem to conspire and simultaneously request for me to play a game, prepare a snack, read a book, help with a homework problem, glue something that's broken, find them a band-aid, and answer a mind-numbingly obscure question.

The difference is that I have three children.  You have a classroom full of them.

And yet, you answer the questions, you help with the homework problems, you individualize the instructions, you hand out the tiny plastic treasure chests when a wiggly tooth finally has been lost, you painstakingly explain how to multiply fractions, you measure benchmarks, and you put the pieces of the broken toy that was smuggled into the classroom as contraband in a small manila envelope, safe and secure, so these pieces arrive back at home safely for us parents to glue.

In your spare time, I'm guessing that you also tie a lot of shoelaces.

Even more, you don't just teach addition or long division, reading or writing, science or social studies.  You teach problem solving and responsibility.  You teach planning and preparation.  You teach that growth comes from consistent effort.  You teach test-taking skills and stamina, and even better, you then teach our kids that their test results aren't the most important measure of their worth.

These notes -- the ones you write on Post-It notes during the nooks and crannies of your busy days -- end up coming home and making their way into our children's rooms, their boxes of treasured items, and their hearts.

I can go on.  There's the Title I reading specialist who hosted a special event at a local bookstore and gifted each participant with a book.  There's the kindergarten teacher who deftly discerns whether complaints of a stomachache are from homesickness or from illness.  There's the second grade teacher who speaks encouragement and structure into my daughter's life when learning doesn't come easily.  There's the fifth grade teacher who coaches how to seamlessly transition into middle school next year.

Don't even get me started on the other helpers: the principal who motivates and holds special lunches with students as rewards, the cafeteria workers who know the names of an entire school-full of children, the custodians who mop the floors, the librarians who remember favorite titles, and the bus drivers who listen to their small, yet impressively loud, passengers while navigating traffic.  (Driver of Bus 9, I heard about the vomiting episode that happened in the aisle last week and how you put a plastic bag over the mess until you could deal with it later.  My condolences to you.)

Teachers and aides and helpers and support staff members: Thank you.  You amaze me.

We deeply appreciate everything that we know you do.  And, even if we can't always articulate it, we appreciate everything you do that we'll never see.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Four Good Things: Unexpectedness, Honey, Pick Ups, Endings

Not heeding the draining power of 80 degree heat, yesterday I decided to make up the long training run that I had skipped over the weekend.  It began inauspiciously when I tripped and fell on gravel a third of a mile into the run, and it ended badly 10 miles later when, parched and exhausted, I reached my car and realized that my keys were locked inside, taunting me.

Come to think of it, that entire middle section of the run was pretty rough, too.

Some days, your success isn't that you ran well, but that you ran, period.  Yesterday was such a day.  Even so, I can often find something good about a run, even if that something is "it ended."  Yesterday, I found four good "somethings."

First, I came across this fireplace and chimney built into a rocky hill.  There's no rhyme or reason for it, which made it curiously unexpected.  Who built a fireplace along a path?  Why?  What an odd mystery.  I love odd mysteries!

Second, I turned onto an entirely new route, ran past a small farm, and discovered a local honey kiosk on the side of the road.  It's rare to come across a drop-your-money-here "self serve" setup, and it made me feel remarkably pleased with my little community.

Third, my cell phone battery lasted long enough for me to call my husband at the end of my run and tell him about my I-just-ran-10-miles-and-now-I'm-stuck-in-a-paking-lot predicament.  Fifteen minutes later, like a knight in a semi-shining Camry, he pulled up, unlocked the car door, and handed me a cold Gatorade.  (He's thoughtful like that.)

And that fourth good thing about yesterday's run?  It ended.

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Thursday, April 21, 2016

The One Folder Everyone Should Keep

At the end of the semester when all parties, students and professors alike, feel overburdened, I find myself advancing through each day like a doctor in triage.  I constantly assess my to-do list, judging what surely will die if I don't attend to it immediately and hoping that everything else survives in the meantime.  (There are always a few casualties.  Right now my sleep schedule, for example, could use resuscitation.  Paddles!  Bring me the paddles!  Stat!)

It's frenetic and weary, which is a horrible combination, like being asked to sprint through sludge.  You know that you should be progressing at a good clip, but you can't make your legs move at the right speed.

Yesterday, in the midst of this tiredness, I opened an email from a student in one of my public speaking classes.

I want to thank you so much for taking the extra mile for your students.   I held off taking this class for 7 semesters, and I have to say that having you as the professor was worth the wait.  Thanks for making this class as painless as possible for someone who hates public speaking, and even more, for making it enjoyable.  I had a rough semester but no matter how bad of a day I was having, starting my Tuesday and Thursday mornings with your welcoming aura really helped, and I truly appreciate it. 

Every time I receive a message like this from a student, whether a handwritten card or an email, I file it into a folder labeled ENCOURAGEMENT.  These are important folders.

When I scroll through the notes that I've compiled over the years, some names are familiar.  Others no longer are.  But the words are life-giving.  They serve as reminders to keep moving, to keep putting one foot in front of the other, to keep pouring out and building up and standing firm and offering the most consistent, fair, thoughtful instruction and evaluation that I can muster.

Everyone should keep an encouragement folder.

And I'm convinced that everyone, when possible, should contribute to someone else's encouragement folder.  You never know when you brief gesture of encouragement will be the words that keep someone afloat.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

This To-Do List Starts Off Innocently Enough....

I found a to-do list written by seven-year-old sitting on our kitchen counter.  You need to read it.   Seriously, take it all in, every glorious and spelling-mistake-riddled line, starting with innocent goal of opening a lemonade stand with cookies after the highly practical concession of getting "supplies."

It's official.  From this day forward, I will never end another to-do list with anything less than "take over the world."

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