Friday, May 8, 2015

Student Appreciation

Every new school year, I have to relearn, rework, and re-imagine my job. With every new group of students I need to learn who they are, what they need, and how to best support their education. Every year, this is a long, changing process. This year in particular, has been quite challenging. It has been difficult to feel as though I am doing my best to support all of my students, to teach them the skills they need to know, and to do my best as an educator. I have struggled. It has been difficult. A week ago, my thoughts about the end of this year consisted of excitement for summer break, excitement for next year's schedule, and preparation for doing things differently. I was ready.

Since then, my thoughts have changed drastically. This past week was Teacher Appreciation Week as well as conferences. Throughout the week, cards and snacks trickled in from my sweet students, as they usually do. But this year, my students gave me a gift that I was not expecting. Gratitude, true appreciation, and a profound sense that I have done my job this year, that I have made a difference. These are the things that I needed. They are the things I didn't know I needed.

Wednesday (our last day with students this week) one of my quiet, sweet young ladies met me at the door first thing in the morning. She had a bouquet of flowers and a handwritten note in hand. I love the flowers, but it was what she said that I took to heart. She thanked me for taking extra time to teach her writing skills that she had struggled with and gave me a big hug. Although I know we have worked together quite a lot this year, I did not expect this. I had no idea that my extra time meant so much to her. A wonderful way to start my day.

My beautiful flowers

Then yesterday (our first day of conferences), I talked with many students and their parents. Much of the day went as conferences usually do, but there were some differences from conferences of the past. My last set of visitors before our lunch break changed my day. She changed my perspective. I will call her "E". "E" came in with her dad, who has attended each of the conference days this year. Each time we meet, I get to gush about how wonderful of a student "E" is, how respectful and responsible she is, how she has grown into a tremendous leader, and about her publish-worthy writing skills. Every time we meet, it ends in all smiles. This time it ended in much more.

"E" entered my room with a painting in-hand. A painting she MADE for me. She spent hours of her time creating this painting as a Teacher Appreciation gift. Just as with the flowers, the painting is so appreciated, it will hang in my classroom forever more, and words can't express my gratitude. However, the words behind the painting are what has changed me. "E" and her dad told me how I have inspired her, how she has learned things from me that have nothing to do with conventions and sentence structure, how she appreciates me and what I have done to help her grow as a young adult. When they left, nearly forty five minutes later, I didn't mind that I had missed most of my lunch. I had all the energy I needed.
A stunning painting from an astonishing young lady

Later that evening, a mom stopped by my table. She asked how her daughter, "K", is doing and listened to my positive comments and suggestions. It seemed, once again, like a normal conference. Then the mom asked about a small group activity with a local author that I had arranged for our aspiring 6th grade writers. She told me how much "K"had appreciated the invite to the event and how it had led to a novel project that her daughter and a friend had created. She also told me that "K" spends hours telling her about our classroom discussions about bullying, homelessness, teen activism, and leadership.

She said that her daughter tells her about the respect she feels in our classroom, how I talk to them like adults, and that we talk about grown up topics. She thanked me for inspiring "K", who is very quiet, to be a leader and to stand up for what she believes in. This same young lady, gave me a card the day before as well as wrote me a very thoughtful, specific letter about how I have impacted her school year and her life.

Every year I hear (as every teacher does), "You are my favorite teacher!", but these interactions were different. These students had more to say. They had specific reasons why our time together matters to them. They used words like "inspire", "respect", "challenge", and "support". I left conferences dreading the end of the school year. Realizing that I have only one month left to complete my work is a sad thought. I want more discussions with these students. I want more chances to reach them. I want more time. My struggles with this year are no longer front and center. Now my limited time with these amazing young people is what matters.

It always surprises me who gets the most out of my classes. This time, it may be me.

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