Thursday, April 6, 2017

Teaching:  The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Every so often, and it seems like it’s when I’m sick or feeling out of sorts, I hear from one of my former students. Their message always turns me around, and tells me “I done good.” (Not the way I was taught to say it, obviously, but the way I choose to hear it.”)

The other day, I received a photo of three adorable little children. They are the children of a former student who asked for my address. I hadn’t heard from this student for a few years, but I remembered him, of course, and sent it along. He said he had something to send me. When I received the photo of his children, I thought that was it, but that was by email, so I knew something else was coming. I couldn’t imagine what.

Yesterday, a package arrived. It was a copy of his PhD Dissertation. Inside was the following note. Needless to say, I was touched to tears. 

We never know how a kind word, an extra few minutes after class with a student will touch a life.  I never realized as a teacher that my personality (“my boundless energy”) was part of what would make an impact on my students. I thought it was all about how well I knew my subject matter and how good I was at disciplining my students. I was very fortunate, as throughout the 35 years I taught, discipline was rarely an issue. 

This student, now a father of three and a PhD recipient, not only worked hard and succeeded, he is a role model for his kids. He is teaching them that hard work pays off, but do not forget to thank those along the way who helped make it possible. He has no idea what his message did for me yesterday, and I am so thankful he chose to share it with me. I wrote to him to tell him and thank him, of course.

The simplest advice I can give a new teacher is to show that you love what you do. If you are excited about your teaching, your students will feel it and respond to it. Use who you are and the unique talents that only you enjoy to connect with your students. Make it about them, however. Make them the stars somehow so that when they leave your classroom, they are smiling and waiting to see what surprise you have in store for them the following day. Engage them in a way they never imagined, and keep them moving. I remember a colleague saying to me at least 20 years ago, “How do we compete with the special effects they see all around them everywhere they go?” I laughed at the time, agreeing with him. That was 20 years ago. Fast forward to cell phone/BlueTooth/streaming, whatever, and try to compete with that as you try to engage your kids. All the more reason to use your unique gifts, whatever they are, to give them an experience unlike any other.

I am ashamed to admit that, although I was inspired by a few incredible teachers in my career, I never took the time to write to them to thank them while they were living. Do not make that mistake. You can still do this. If there was a teacher, a mentor, a grocery store clerk that said or did something that inspired or motivated you, reach out and say “thank you.” 

Thank you, Josh, for a gift I will treasure always.