A few weeks ago was Teacher Appreciation week; it was a week filled with a special lunch, a 10 minute chair massage, a student created “flower” bouquet, fresh cut flowers, gift cards, dark chocolate, chia seed bars, coconut water and an antioxidant nut mix…many of my favorite things, and I felt very appreciated! The best gift of the week, however, was discovered in my school mailbox Friday morning. It was a rather ordinary black binder filled with rather extraordinary letters, written to me by my students and their parents. I started reading the letters as I walked down the hall. By the time I got to my classroom, my eyes were glistening and my throat felt tight.
I don’t feel a need to be the most fun teacher a student has ever had. What I do want, is to be “that teacher” kids appreciate once they leave my classroom. I want them to look back, and realize that the important lessons I taught them, had more to do with succeeding in life, rather than mastering specific skills like finding common denominators, or writing a claim for a literary analysis, or identifying characteristics of a graphic novel. And I understand these “life lessons” are lessons that may not be realized by 10 year olds. As I read the letters, however, I discovered that several of my students had learned life lessons I didn’t even know I was teaching.
I have a bulletin board in my classroom entitled “4 Your Health” (and I know many of you are seeing a commonality in how I like to label titles). Throughout the year, I design health challenges for my kids. These challenges range from getting 10-11 hours of sleep each night, to eating 5 servings of veggies each day, to staying away from processed foods, to reading ingredient labels, and even performing a random act of kindness each day. Each time a challenge is introduced, I gather the kids around me and have an informal, interactive discussion regarding the importance of the challenge. I utilize a “Did you know…” format, based on the positive health and educational consequences gained by participating in the challenge. There is one “winner” (you know…the student who gets to sit on the teacher’s chair for a day or gets the couch during independent reading time) for each challenge.
While I read through the binder, I was thrilled that many students commented on how much they liked the challenges, and I smiled as I read about how they were well aware they were “winners” simply by participating. Several parents also brought up the challenges, and thanked me for encouraging their child to live a healthy, balanced lifestyle. There was one letter in particular, however, that provoked the tears. And this goes to show, how much I can learn from my students.
“I like how you have the health challenges because it makes me feel like you care about me.”
This comment stopped me in my tracks. To be honest, I had incorporated the health challenges in my classroom quite selfishly. I wanted to give my students every advantage possible to be successful, and not just in my classroom, but in life. I truly believe living a healthy lifestyle lays the groundwork for success. And the selfish part comes in as I admit this. My personal feelings of success as a teacher, directly correlate to the success of my students. When they demonstrate perseverance, and become caring, productive people, I am on top of the world. When they experience success, I feel successful.
So thank you, Owen. You have reminded me what caring looks like, and made me feel more successful than I deserve.