In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, I want to share some of the ways my husband, family, friends, and students have made me feel special and acknowledged over these past twenty-five years spent in the classroom.
My Husband’s Support
Without fail, on the very first morning of every school year, my husband secretly tucks a card into my schoolbag that reads something like this:
On behalf of the new group of students who are privileged to now call you teacher, thank you for enriching their lives—socially, emotionally, soulfully, and academically. Here’s to your best school year ever! I am proud of the important work you do cultivating classrooms overflowing with willingness, wisdom, wonder, warmth, and worth. xo
When we’re at a social event and I inevitably make a beeline to my fellow educators, only to join in on what my husband knows will be yet another endless round of “teacher talk,” he resists rolling his eyes. Instead, my husband understands that sharing the school stories he may have heard a million times helps me find much-needed cheer (and commiseration) with my colleagues. Sometimes a little after-hours venting (and a little vino) with my coworkers is this teacher’s own best homework assignment.
More than the fact that my husband allows me time to express my teacher frustrations and triumphs to others, it’s most gratifying how year after year he vicariously lives my life in the classroom and knows the names of all of my most noteworthy (and notorious) students.
Feedback from Family and Friends
It took me nine years to write my first book for educators, The Firm, Fair, Fascinating Facilitator. Within its pages, I speak my truth about what great teaching entails and how anything less than such classroom efficacy takes its toll on both students and teachers. I wanted my fellow educators, new and veteran alike, to learn from my mistakes, as well as to benefit from my experience.
After my book was finally published, I of course gave my mother one of the first autographed copies. I told her she didn’t have to read it, but she insisted she would. And she did—cover to cover.
While that grand gesture would’ve been enough and anyone would expect their parent to gush about their child’s first book, the part I loved most was when my mom would call me at various junctures to remark about the current chapter she was reading. It meant the world to me that she actually “got” what my teaching life was like, warts and all, and that she understood and agreed with my philosophy of attending to the needs of the whole child.
I have always been Los Angeles-based, so when my friend in Maryland emailed me recently to tell me about someone who had made her day, it made my day as well. Her colleague had sent her a link to the Edutopia article Young Adult Novels that Teach a Growth Mindset because he thought a school librarian like her would find it particularly interesting. As my East Coast friend recounted to me, she was delighted to inform him that she had already read that article and that she knew its author (me) personally!
Both teaching and writing can be a lonely business. Validation and enthusiasm from my students always reinvigorates me, but adult interaction and feedback is necessary as well. Time has to be carved out to connect with colleagues, and my books and blogging are a new way to continue the education conversation amongst a wider, even global, community of educators. I am always heartened to see instances when the degrees of separation between me and my fellow teachers continues to become delightfully smaller.
My Students’ Expressions of Gratitude
For the last fifteen years, I have gazed upon a gift from one of my students that perpetually adorns my teacher desk. It’s just a cheesy dollar store pencil holder, but it holds immeasurable value to me.
Its wire mesh receptacle is surrounded by crashing waves and two frolicking dolphins, all cast in chintzy resin and its many crannies encrusted with a decade and a half’s worth of dust. My student bought it for me because we were reading one of the best books ever, The Island of the Blue Dolphins. I keep it to remind me that the literature I share with my students resonates with them far beyond the walls of my classroom.
While teaching middle school in South Los Angeles for twenty-one years, most of my students came from immigrant families with little formal education and limited resources. The challenges they faced were abundant and daunting, yet I can boast many student success stories. One of my most cherished moments was when one of my students invited me to her parents’ house for her graduation party—not from high school, not from college, but from UCLA law school!
At the backyard fiesta, I was as proud as her parents; but I wasn’t just proud of their accomplished daughter. I also had the pleasure of visiting with several of my former students. One was a second-year math teacher, and another was one of five Robles brothers, all of whom had graced my English class at one time or another, beginning my very first year of teaching. In that glorious evening, I felt like much of my career had come full circle and that my impact had indeed meant something, even all these many years later.
It’s always nice to be recognized and remembered, but I have come to realize that it’s my own memories of the people who have touched me that sustain and sweeten my beloved teaching career.
Looking for the perfect Teacher Appreciation gift for yourself, a beloved colleague, a new teacher– or all three? Check out Talented Teachers, Empowered Parents, Successful Students! It’s my love letter to the teaching profession and full of practical strategies to honor the needs of the whole child and to strengthen parent-teacher relationships.