Today was an interesting day. It started with grumble-rumble-mumble snort with some students not being happy with me and some decisions I had made and moved into a lovely meeting with students who were giving me insight into how to teach the Math-Sci Gifted and Talented students to a classroom in which several students were hugely apathetic and were deliberately doing as little as possible. Which discouraged me.
And then the classroom phone rang and one of the office secretaries asked me to send down a student because a delivery was in the office.
Student goes downstairs. Student comes back upstairs.
Student is carrying a McDonald’s fruit smoothie with a little note next to it. From a former student, Karina. Darling Karina who always had something wonderful to say. Karina who gave herself completely to my class and worked as hard as she could.
The note is in my bag and will be placed with my collection of notes from students and parents. The smoothie…well, that tasted quite lovely. Nom nom nom….
And the brain freeze was temporary so all is good.
But, the fact is, I forget, sometimes about the majority of my students who are working as hard as they can and I focus, instead, on the small percentage of students whose heads are on their desks or are staring at their cell phones or are absorbed in something completely unrelated to my class but are always the first to complain about x or y and z.
I need to re-learn how to alter my focus and see the students whose eyes are illuminated with excitement as they enter into the literature and see the worlds unfolding around them. Today, a young man started giving me his insight and I watched as his face flushed with joy when I confirmed his opinion about the poem. This young man struggled at the year’s opening. Now, he happily dives into words to seek out their meanings.
One thing I struggle with, as a teacher, is choosing to cap my emotions into hidden places and let insults, grimaces, and angry mutterings slip off my back. I am not a rubber ducky. I am not a plastic toy that bobs happily in the water while ignoring the orbiting world surrounding me. I have toughened my skin and have stopped obsessing about making everyone happy. I still enjoy the smile-suffused faces of my students. I won’t deny it. However, I have also learned how to say, “No.” Now I just have to sound like I mean it.
But when a strawberry-banana smoothie comes into my room with a small note written on yellow-legal-pad-paper, the world around me stops to orbit. Karina’s voice came to me as surely as though she were in the room with me and I could see her back in the front corner, reading her book or discussing The Hunger Games or 102 Minutes and I remember how her grin would spread from corner to corner as she laughed at something I did or said.
This afternoon, I met with Andrew, my former Strayer University student. We went through a piece of writing he had done recently so we could edit and see how he was improving with his writing skills. Perfect? No. But his writing was so much better from where he started and I felt that powerful sense of pride when I could see, in front of me, the fact that he had been learning and absorbing the tutoring lessons over the last two years.
Success isn’t always going to come with flowers or money. I’m not bashing the Teacher of the Year award. That has been life-altering in all the best ways. But I forget to see the success that sits in all the corners of my room on a daily basis. I forget to see success when a student raises his/her hand and contributes to the discussion, especially when this student is usually someone who is quiet and reserved. I forget to see success when a smoothie and brief handwritten note come into my room and the heads down on the desks are forgotten while I pinch the bridge of my nose to get rid of the swift kick of brain-freeze-pain.
I once had a student, Brad, who came back to visit me after his first year of college. He didn’t do as well as he wanted on his AP exam, but he talked about going to his English literature class. They were reading a book in which a man was killed, tied up, and pulled up into a tree. As I recall, barbed wire was involved….
Anyhow, as the character was being hoisted into the tree, his arms slipped out and he became a Christ figure. Add in there the barbed wire imagery, and the Christ image was even more apparent. Brad brought this to the professor’s attention and discussed the symbolic significance. After class, the professor pulled him aside and compliment Brad on his analysis skills and perception, saying that no one had ever made that connection before.
Brad told me about this, told me about how he learned how to analyze in my class.
Those words tasted as wonderful as a strawberry-banana smoothie.