Admit it! You just read that title in your head like a cheerleader. Don’t lie, ya’ll. No shame! ;-)
In case you didn’t know, this week (May 5-9) is National Teacher Appreciation Week with Tuesday being National Teacher Appreciation Day. As a teacher myself, I can assure you, I don’t think it’s coincidence that this weeklong celebration of educators comes in early May. In many parts of the United States, the school year ends in late May, so to have Teacher Appreciation Week in early May is fitting, because this is the time of year when we need it most! For you athletes out there, think of the last few weeks of the school year as comparable to the last few miles of a marathon or the last few minutes of a nailbiting game: mind over matter, minute to win it, mad dash to the finish. There is no relax and eat bon bons after standardized testing is over. Are you crazy? Teachers have to maintain order in the court until the last bell rings on the last day. So, yeah, teacher appreciation in May is appropriate, and most of the teachers I know are grateful for the kind words and extra gestures not just in May but all year-round.
Most of the time, this blog is about Hayley. One of the hardest things about being a teacher is it’s often hard to seperate your teacher self from your personal self. Honestly, it seems impossible at times. The people who take my group fitness classes say I teach aerobics with my “teacher voice.” While working on housebreaking with my new dog, instead of scolding her for peeing in the floor I caught myself saying, “Lizzy, are you making good choices?” It causes me physical pain to not get onto misbehaving children in public, and I can’t resist seeing a child engrossed in a book without asking them what they are reading and whether or not they like it. No matter how hard I try to take the teacher hat off, Ms. Lynn just doesn’t go away. That’s why, during Teacher Appreciation Week- a week all about all of the awesome teachers out there, I am choosing to write in response to this prompt: “Sometimes, teachers learn the most from their students. Have you ever had the tables turned on you when you thought you were teaching, but underwent the largest change yourself?” Have I ever had the tables turned on me and learned from my students? Um…yes. Often, and they are lessons we could all use, so let me present to you a brief list of things my students have taught me:
1. Celebrate life’s small victories- In a modern, competitive world, it’s easy to get caught up in the push to be the best of the best of the best. We want first place, good scores, the leading role- the big victories. In fact, the bigger, the better. We set big goals with big dreams and big visions, and we celebrate them with grandeur. Then, we turn right around and set an even bigger goal. Don’t stop. Keep pushing. On and on. It’s the pace of our hectic lives. There’s just no time to get excited about the little things…but there should be. When I taught first grade, one of my students, a very struggling reader, was being tested on recognition of 52 basic sight words. The, they, at, in, etc. Easy enough, right? Wrong. One day, every word he saw on the card was “do.” Even when the word on the card wasn’t “do” his response was “do.” On card #4 and card #37…the same thing…he saw “do.” With my patience waning and both of our frustration levels mounting, I tried every clue I could think of to help him recognize any of these words. Nothing worked. Then, when we were almost through the entire set of words, there it popped up…”do.” His little face lit up with genuine recognition as he shouted, “DO!” Relieved, I high-fived him and said, “Yes! You got it!” He immediately responded with a little endzone happy dance and said, “Oh, snap!” That small victory was huge for him. He carried on with excitement until I had to be stern to get him back to work, but sometimes, the small things are worth an excessive celebration penalty. ;-)
2. Be silly- Sometimes, when my third graders ask what we are having for lunch, I reply, “Booger sandwiches.” They always giggle, because it’s funny when your teacher says booger. When I am reading a story out loud that contains the word underwear, they giggle, because it’s funny when your teacher says underwear. When I say things like, “Is it ever ok to sit on your friend’s head?” or “What is the funky goop growing in your lunchbox?” they giggle, because it’s funny when your teacher asks questions like that. When I say, “Guys, for real. It stinks in here. If you need to go to the bathroom, just. go. Seriously. Stop it.” they giggle, because they know what I am referring to, and it’s funny when your teacher is talking about a toot. And do you know what happens when they giggle like that? 9 times out of 10, I giggle, too. Giggling is infectious, and we all need to be infected with some silly sometimes.
3. Embrace differences- One of my favorite verses in the Bible says, “I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:14). I love the concept of being “fearfully and wonderfully made.” All the quirks of our bodies and personalities…everything that makes us who we are…fearfully, wonderfully made by Him. I think it is the sweetest way to think of a child, and I wish I could always think of every child I meet with that mindset, but it’s hard to do that. Teachers, you know what I mean. We’ve all had that kid…yeah, that kid. That kid who says your name so many times a day you want to join the Witness Protection Program. That kid who when you are making Christmas decorations glues Santa’s pants on upside down. That kid who always steps to the left whenever you say step to the right. That kid who when you threaten them not to say one more word always has to say one…more…word. That kid will give you gray hair before your time or send you back to the colorist sooner than you can afford, but I have also learned that kid has a lot to teach us if we just pay attention.
One year at Valentine’s a kid who I will call “Sam” (not his real name) was decorating his box for our party. I had doiles and glitter and foam sticker hearts and all the perfect shades of pink, purple, red, and white laid out. Visions of Pinterest perfection danced in my head. Then, Sam came to the table. He was a struggling reader with a pronounced speech impediment. He didn’t fit “the mold” nor did he want to. He was often “that kid,” and he didn’t care. “Where’s the black? And the green?” I told him this was Valentine’s Day, and I hadn’t put any black or green out. (Hello? Martha would not approve.) I went back to what I was doing thinking he would go straight to work, and he did. He used my perfect pink, purple, red, and white all over his box. Oh, and black and green markers from his desk to color the doiles which he glued on with enough glue to hold together a spacesuit. And let’s not forget the glitter that was supposed to spell out his name but looked like he had written it while riding horseback. My eye twitched. My OCD was showing. The boxes didn’t look like this on Pinterest, but maybe…maybe if I just wiped this off here and straightened this out here…I reached my hand out to start trying to fix the mess I saw, and Sam pushed my hand away with an unexpected ferocity, “No! Dis is my box! It’s boo-te-ful just like dis.” I paused. I didn’t know what to say at first, but then I said, “You’re right.” And he was. It was his box, and it was beautiful and perfectly imperfect…just like him. How’s that for fearfully, wonderfully made? You know “that kid” in your class? Give them an extra hug tomorrow. You won’t regret it.
4. Get excited to the see people you love.- Remember being a kid and seeing your teacher in public? Wasn’t that the funniest thing? You couldn’t believe they went bowling or bought groceries or went to the pool. You would scream their name five aisles down in the store just to make sure they saw you even though you both just left school 30 minutes before. You had to wave at them from the bus window when their car pulled up beside you. You had to run and give them a hug even though you would see them tomorrow. It was so exciting to see your teacher, because they were always excited to see you! (Confession: I’m 31 years old, and I still get excited when I see my favorite teachers.) My friends who are not teachers think it is so funny when a gaggle of 8 year old paparazzi members pounce on me when I am spotted in public. You know why? They remember how special it was to be that excited to see someone and for them to be that excited to see you in return. It just makes you feel good. Here’s what’s really awesome: that kind of joy is not just limited to excited kids and their teachers. Get excited to see someone you love this week. I promise it will make you feel good, too.
5. Love your kids- This was actually a lesson taught to me by one of my favorite teachers, but my students reinforce it in my heart. This teacher of mine, who is now my friend, gave me this advice when I first began my teaching program in college. He told me to support my kids, defend my kids, teach my kids, praise my kids, protect my kids, and above all else, love my kids. He warned me I would have moments when it would seem so hard to love a student that I would wonder if it were possible, but that a teacher’s heart must always hold love for their kids. Nine years in to my career, he will vent and let me vent in return. Then, right before he cuts off the teacher talk for something more casual, he always says to me, “But don’t forget…you gotta love ‘em.” He’s right. Even when they don’t like me, my students love me. I hear it in their giggles, see it in their smiles, and feel it in their hugs. Teachers are charged with many duties, but above all else, “you gotta love ‘em.”
So, 2, 4, 6, 8 who do I appreciate? Teachers, of course, but most of all, my students. The kiddos who wind me up and wear me down but always keep me coming back for more. I am thankful for all they teach me.
Hayley and Riley (the dog who would love to come to school with his Mom!)