getting external reinforcement for all of the great things they were doing within their classrooms. I was never jealous, as I am not a jealous person. I was proud of them as they were my friends. Instead, I wondered...beat myself up, trying to figure out what I was doing wrong. It must be an issue with me? What is wrong with me? It wasn't until a recent "aha" moment, that I realized something. I realized that my teaching, didn't have anything to do with me. Teaching is not about the teacher. How is that possible? When I reflected over those 14 years, it became crystal clear.
Here is how and when, my eyes were opened. In one of our high schools, seniors have the option of nominating someone to be in the "honor guard". This was a special honor reserved for students; to invite an educator that has made a difference in their life, to participate in graduation. I had heard of this honor. Mostly from teachers who had been invited so many times, that it seemed like a "duty" rather than an honor.
Considering that I was an early elementary teacher, I had come to the realization that this was not something that I would ever get invited to. I had taught so many different grades, that I honestly couldn't remember if any of my students had even reached the age.
Well, low and behold, a few months ago, I get THE LETTER!! I opened it up and when I saw the name, I just cried. The name on that letter was a student that I held very close to my heart. I love all of my students, and will always regard them as MY students. But I have a handful, that have a special place. It is usually those students that had been labeled as "difficult" or "troubled". I always made a special connection with them.
I had this particular student in Kindergarten. When this child was in my class, he was almost non verbal and struggled socially. He took a lot of my attention and emotion. It was only my second year of teaching and I was pregnant at the time. I would be physically and emotionally exhausted at the end of each day. BUT, this kid had a place in my heart. I took a year off on maternity leave and when I returned, I was placed in second/third grade combo. This child's first grade teacher, requested that he be put in my class. He had flourished and made huge strides since Kindergarten and it was a pleasure to guide and encourage him throughout his second grade year. His family asked if he could "loop" with me and stay in my class as a third grader. I was lucky to witness this transformation over the years. I continued to check on him and he on me through out his time at my school site. When he left, he and his mom would come back EVERY year on the last day of school to visit his preschool teacher and myself. Two years ago, I left the classroom for a District job and on the last day of school, I thought about him. Wondered if they went to the site, looking for me. Well, this year...he found me!
His preschool teacher and I ended up going to his Spring Chorus Concert and this little boy, that grew up with us was a man. A very polished and accomplished man. He had received two letters in athletics and numerous awards for chorus. He came running off the stage during practice when he saw us. I got a big hug and he said "Did you know I nominated you for Honor Guard?". I said yes and explained how special it was to me. He asked "Do you want to know why I nominated you?" My answer "Only if you want me to cry." He said "I have to tell you! When I was in your class, you encouraged me in your class musicals by giving me leads. You helped me come out of my shell and gain confidence. You are the reason that I am up on that stage!" Well, his dad got a fantastic picture of me hugging him doing an ugly cry.
*The special gift I received that night was not only knowing I actually made a difference for someone, but that my 12 year old daughter was there to witness it. I turned around and she had tears in her eyes and hugged me all the way back to our seats. She kept commenting on it and when he sang a solo, she turned to me with tears in her eyes and said "Mom, he's up there because of you."
That's it! That is what it's about. It's about the students! It is about the connections, the bonds, the encouragement, the growth, the difference. The things that extend beyond those four walls. No award needed, no public acknowledgement. That was it...that filled me up like nothing else. I had actually made a difference in this kid's life and it had nothing to do with content, standards, assessments. It was about the relationship and connection.
I always knew it was important to have those connections with students and their families. Now looking back, I can remember many similar moments where students or families would thank me for being welcoming, caring, patient, understanding, encouraging. I heard those things, but it didn't register how important that was. Parents leave their most prized possession with us. They trust us to take care of them. And that is what I did. I cared and still do care for each and every student that has crossed my path. I did my best to find that "special something" in each of them and highlight it. I encouraged and supported in their struggles. I knew that when students felt cared for and valued, that everything else would fall into place. I guess I innately knew these things, because I never really thought about it, until very recently.
To me, knowing that I made a difference in just one student, is better than any plaque or gift that I never received.
What this also does, is remind me how much I miss being with students. In my current position, I am quite removed from the classroom. I try to get into rooms as much as I can, but it is not the same. So, now, I try to be that same person, with the adults that I work with. My hope is that I am there to find that "thing", encourage, support, be that person for them. No reward will be given and no reward will be needed. I know my purpose is to help others, whomever, however that may be.
Lesson learned: It's never about me...it's about others. Relationships matter!
Mother, Teacher, Administrator, Presenter, GCE Level 1 & 2, Encourager of others.
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