Most of us who teach are now in a moment of pause, between semesters, between classes. Although we are mid-academic year, we are facing a new calendar year, traditionally a time to reflect, recommit, and redirect.
I offer below a repost of a piece from 2011, something I think that is enduring and important—a lesson from a student of a former student of mine, now a teacher.
I spent the first eighteen years of my career as an educator, teaching high school English at the high school I attended in my home town. There, I was fortunate to teach hundreds and hundreds of wonderful young people who made my life richer and fueled my desire to be the best teacher I could be.
The last thirteen years have been devoted to teacher education. I now have about three dozen young English teachers who have come through my courses and field experiences, creating for me a different kind of pride in them and my work.
All of these students I love. I miss them dearly, and recall them fondly. Facebook has been a wonderful opportunity to reconnect, although virtually, with a few hundred students. Yes, I “friend” students and former students—because I have told all of my teachers-to-be that they should ignore the misguided advice often given to young teachers: “Don’t be friends with your students.”
I have yet to understand what characteristics of friendship we should deny the children in our care. . .
Because of my life and profession as an educator, and because of the wonderful students and teachers who have been in my classes, I admit that I am quick to bristle at the current criticism and misinformation about teachers and the entire profession of teaching.
Two-plus years ago, I received a notice in my gmail account that a former student, Stephanie Johnson, who now teachers in DC had tagged me in a comment on Facebook, and this is what she wrote:
Today, I got a beautiful reminder from a student about why I’ve chosen this profession. The student (an 8th grade male student with special needs) planned and hosted a reception to honor five staff members who have had a positive impact on his life. He decided he wanted to do it, he got help from the necessary people to make it happen, and he hosted a beautiful program to honor them. I’ve been to events planned by adults that weren’t of this caliber. It was amazing. And it led me to say this to my teacher friends…In this time when teachers are disrespected by those that make the decisions about our profession AND those completely outside of it, it’s important to remember that we do this for CHILDREN. To be a positive part of CHILDREN’S lives. To empower and nurture CHILDREN. Though our efforts go unnoticed and are under-appreciated by the powers that be, the CHILDREN do notice. They notice when you go out of your way to support and care for them. They notice when you recognize the gifts they have that others can’t (or won’t) see. They notice that you are there every day, longer than you should be. They notice. And they appreciate you. So, in this stressful end of the year time with testing, IEPs, etc., I hope you’ll continue to stay positive and hopeful. I hope you’ll continue doing everything that you’ve always done that has made you the wonderful teacher (social worker, administrator) that you are. Enjoy your last few weeks with your students.
Every time a self-appointed education reformer claims she is putting children first, think about these words above.
Every time a self-appointed education reformer argues that education has too many bad teachers, think about these words above.
Every time a self-appointed education reformer accuses teachers of being satisfied with the status quo, think about these words above.
Every time a self-appointed education reformer says we give too many tests and then calls for more tests, think about these words above.
“The CHILDREN do notice”. . .
They notice adult hypocrisy, they notice our wars, they notice that many, too many, people have too little in the richest country in the world. . .
But most of all, they notice the kindness and genuine love of that adult whose classroom they enter for the first time purely by chance. They notice that we have chosen to be teachers because we expect to love them, we expect them to be all that they imagine they can be.
I can only paraphrase Stephanie, “Enjoy your time with your students.”
And despite all the things that make us question being teachers, be thankful that come the next school year, there will be more students to empower and nurture.
* Reposted from Daily Kos (May 9, 2011).