Wednesday, April 30, 2014

In It For the Long Haul

When you enter the doors of Jasztalville, I am not just your teacher for the duration of one year. Beyond the 180 days I instruct and inspire you, I hope I can be an invaluable resource, confidant, and advocate who helps you to succeed beyond measure. I hope to be a part of your mosaic, your network. If you ever have a question regarding academics, you can always come to me because I will exert my best to have a wise answer.

The students I have taught over the years have impacted my life in tremendous ways, inspiring me to be stronger and more innovative. Since tomorrow is the first of May, I have my students for only one more month-- and while this summer will be a time of immense production and exploration, the young people I have gotten to know since August will become "former students". This year progressed faster than I believe any other ever has, and beautiful memories have been made, but this chapter will soon be coming to an end. I hope when I write my words of inspiration for my students at the end of the school year that I convey I will ALWAYS be their "fan".

Let me state this publicly. This has nothing to do with any one student I have ever taught-- though this has happened on plenty of occasions (when I was a fourth grade teacher and I had students in fifth grade, and even now as a fifth grade teacher with former students in middle school... or at a public place). It hurts in ways beyond imaginable when I see a former student anywhere-- and I am ignored. It pretty much gives off this message-- "You imparted knowledge to me for 180 days, and now I don't even know who you are anymore." (Though... I bet that's not the message. It's like this...) I mistakenly did this to one of my favorite teachers of all time when I was in high school; I ran into my eighth grade history teacher at the movies and completely ignored him because I didn't know what to say. He still remains a profound influence in my life, and I wish that day I would have struck up a conversation with him because he exerted so much effort in making my experience in his history class incredible. He organized a wonderful, memorable "Saturday field trip"; it was to the Don CeSar Hotel and downtown St. Petersburg to immerse ourselves in local history and architecture. One of the stand-out memories of his class was how he would show home videos of his family traveling all over the United States to help teach us about history. He thought about us while he and his family were on the road. He was also unconventional, as I am now, singing random songs that were sometimes a bit bizarre but at other times profoundly educational. Yet in the movies, only three years after having him, I acted like he had never been my teacher, and it actually hurts me now to think about it. About six years later-- perhaps-- he became Teacher of the Year for his school, and a number of years after that, I represented my school as Teacher of the Year. I congratulated him for his phenomenal accomplishment via district e-mail but never saw or heard from him again, though he (I believe) still teaches in our district as a high school history teacher now.

Sigh. It feels good to get that out. In a public manner. There are teachers who change your life, and even when one doesn't, it is still amazing to give that person the consideration and appreciation (s)he deserves. I feel like that one teacher impacted the person I became in adulthood as an educator now.

I remember when I went back to former teachers to write letters of recommendation, and it was incredible what a few of those individuals recalled a few years after having them. I never considered myself that memorable, though my writing and artwork tended to stand out because I always put forth strong effort when working on projects. When I have reunited with a few teachers over the course of my teaching career, I took the time to tell them how much they made a difference in my life-- just by being themselves and believing in what I could accomplish. Even nineteen years after having my sixth grade Language Arts teacher (now twenty) and twenty-four (now twenty-five) years after having my first grade teacher, I told those women they were more than teachers to me. They were brilliant, innovative, gracious people I considered my friends. Because of my first grade teacher, I succeeded in school-- I will hold that opinion for the rest of my life-- and my sixth grade teacher was strict but immensely loving. I didn't know until adulthood that she told one of my friends that it was so valuable that she was protecting me from being bullied (more than I was, because I was beyond bullied). I was one of the most bullied students in the entire middle school, and-- she at least recognized it... and tried to help it in her own way by affirming my friend.

I have been recognized by former students-- attending last year's high school graduation and having the honor of being a hand shaker. Immense love and pride swelled as I congratulated each student-- and hugged my former students like very little time had passed since they were fourth graders. It is beautiful hearing some of their stories now, knowing what they are accomplishing as college students and the plans they have for their careers. Some of the students have grown up to be the most altruistic, mature, and humble young men and women I know. I thank them for staying true to themselves; it is substantial because there are so many pressures society exerts upon young people today.

It also was a beautiful surprise when a student-- a few years ago-- prepared a plethora of neat things for me as a middle schooler as a gift for my birthday. She gave me her fourth grade book publishing project, examples of work she received exemplary grades on, and a few other neat goodies. The birthday card stated, "You are STILL and will always be my favorite teacher of all time." That was a tear fest and so heartwarming, to say the very least. I also have letters from my students that were written in fifth grade during Teacher Appreciation Week as well as all the letters the kids wrote at the end of their fourth grade years.

Teachers are valuable, and I hope in the lives of many, I am considered to be someone who can never stop guiding, advising, and affirming. I hope to attend even more high school graduations, perhaps a few college graduations, have students who become experts in their field who are a part of my network, and receive cards (for the holiday season or whatever other reason). I know I will not be "Glen Holland" or "John Keating" to every student I ever teach, but I hope I am someone. That moment of coming back or showing appreciation means more than one would ever expect.

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