Teachers: You Are Better Than You Think You Are

One year ago, I wrote a blog post titled “What Students Remember Most About Teachers” which went viral the second month after I published it.  Since then, it has been the single most-read item on my blog with hundreds of views each day and over 2 million views to date.  In particular, at key times of the year (August, September and mid-way through the year), it will spike an interest again with the teaching public, with tens of thousands of views on certain days.

I have been perplexed by this phenomenon over the past year because I am really at a loss for why this particular blog post has struck such a chord. And then I happened upon these two articles tonight.  One, about why teachers feel so bad most of the time and the other, a test to take so as to determine whether or not you are a bad teacher, both written by Ellie Herman (a former teacher).  It got me thinking about teachers again- and why teaching matters.

I don’t want to focus solely on the content of either article so as to critique.  But I do want to point out one thing that I think explains the interest in my blog post that went viral: that is, why it continues to be read by teachers one year later.  And I think the answer lies in part within Herman’s two blog posts. According to Herman, teachers are inadequately trained for the classroom realities they face, get little to no support to deal with those realities, and don’t have the resources  to do the job well.  Add to this, the reality that many teachers (both those who are essentially good teachers as well as those who should never have entered the profession- due to Herman’s five criteria) have given up because the odds are stacked against them.

It is a tough gig being a teacher.

Ironically, when I wrote the article about teachers fourteen months ago, I had no intentions of publishing the letter.  It was actually written concerning a real person involved in a real interaction with me, an actual event; so that scenario I portrayed in the letter was between two real-life colleagues.  I had an actual conversation with someone and sent them the letter because I cared about them as a teacher, and I wrote the letter because I wanted to somehow encourage that person in the very same ways I sometimes need encouragement.  More than anything, I wanted to care for the person I was interacting with as a colleague, so as to remind them that I believed in them and that I knew they were doing a better job than they were giving themselves credit for.

I think teachers need this type of encouragement so as to be reminded of how well they are doing.  And it takes sometimes a moment for us to remember to do this for one another- spurring each other on so that we stay the course. That was one reason I wrote the letter- as a means of inspiration.  But even more than this, I wanted to also relay another message- one that has been felt in more general ways by teachers the world over.  That message was this: teachers, you are doing a far better job than you give yourselves credit- so believe in yourselves and the influence you have on your students.  You are good teachers.  Teachers, we are all better than we sometimes give ourselves credit for.

Something I have heard said about students from both the administration level as well as from our provincial teaching federation (P.E.I.T.F.) president is the following: students bring their best selves with them each day to school.  It might not be what WE would deem best- but the reality is, it is THEIR best for that particular day. I have had conversations with administration as well about parents- parents that do things differently than I do as a parent, but who love their children nonetheless.  Parents who bring their best to the table.  And what I have discovered about parents is this: parents tend to bring the best they have to give to their child’s education as well.

Is their best the same as my best or even your best?  Not necessarily- but best is a relative term as long as we are not talking about inflicting harm or injury on another human being in physical, emotional or psychological ways.  What I am trying to say here is that as long as we are aiming to do something productive for our children, what is BEST can differ.

Which brings us around to teachers.

Do teachers bring their best to school each day? Let’s assume that teachers do not meet the five criteria that Herman has established which make for bad teachers (disliking children, consistently uninterested in your subject matter, don’t have a clue what you are teaching, ignoring a large subset of your students most of the time, and who are overall, totally disengaged in teaching).  Teachers who are not consistently any of those five and who also have a desire at all to investigate their practice and think about their identity as a professional are really who form the baseline for me.  If teachers are at that place- caring somewhat about who they are and what they do, then I feel those teachers are bringing their best to the profession.

Now again: that word best, it is a relative word.  When someone talks BEST they start envisioning other buzz phrases: words like charismatic, creative, reform-minded and inspirational.  Words associated with teaching style like: engaging in praxis, integrating technology, differentiating instruction and scaffolding  instruction. But I am not talking about setting a bar for best for either personality or teaching style.  What I am maintaining here is that bringing your BEST SELF to work means bringing the self that cares.

Care is the quality that defines truly great teaching.  And caring is for me the underlying quality that defines a good teacher.

Weighed against that criteria, good teachers are those who do the following:

Good teachers care about themselves- care for their own personal, emotional, physical and spiritual well-being.

Good teachers care about others- care for people both young and old both children, youth and adults.

Good teachers care about ideas- care about thinking and understanding, knowing and connecting.

Good teachers care about things- classrooms, and books, and lunches and school buses.

Good teachers also care about non-human entities: animals, and plants, eco-systems and habitats.

And good teachers finally care about experiences- what happens at home, in school and some of what happens in between.

Simply put: good teachers care. 

And they tend to care a great deal the longer they exercise that caring muscle.

So when it comes to criteria for defining good and bad teachers, focusing on the fact that most teachers who care enough about ideas and experiences to read an article about teaching are probably good teachers, it almost becomes a waste of time for teachers to ask themselves if they are bad at their job.  We hear enough negativity in the onslaught of media messages to waste too much on this consideration. What we need to be asking as teachers is this: what makes you a great teacher…and how can you find ways to do this again tomorrow?

Then too, ask yourself this: how can I find ways to rise above the imperfect circumstances in which I find myself, the less than ideal situations I find myself in as a teacher and be my best teaching self?  And how can I tap into that reservoir of care that brought me into this profession in the first place?

Teachers, we are better than we think we are.  We just have to remember.

We are a caring profession.  And while we are diverse in scope- each of us bringing different traditions, orientations, philosophies, backgrounds, experiences, personalities, cultures, attitudes and beliefs to the table; what binds us together as a collective is our common care for our students and our profession. We care. And may we never forget how important that quality is in making us great teachers.

Safe Havens and Soft Landings

You know, I have had many people tell me over the years that they could never be a teacher.  Could never do my job. That they don’t have what it takes. That it is too demanding in terms of the behaviors and the complicated issues children present. Too hard on the nerves. Too taxing on the stress levels. Never mind the additional stressful academic responsibilities that come with the job.

Honestly, it isn’t the easiest profession. It isn’t the easiest calling to be drawn to. It hasn’t been the smoothest sailing I’ve ever known. There are many challenging days, many hurdles to jump. Many deep waters to traverse.  There are many moments when I wonder myself. That all because: it is hard being there for people, day in and day out.   Hard staying the course when the ride gets bumpy.  And truth be told, the ride is very treacherous.  And all because there are so many variables.  So many children with so many stories.  For in our classrooms, there are children who have seen things I will never know about in my lifetime. Who have heard things I will never hear. Watched things transpire that I can only envision in my worst nightmares. Who have lived lives in their short years that I will never live.

It isn’t easy being a kid at the best of times. Try being one at the worst of times.

There are days when these same children come into the classroom and they just your push buttons. They try your patience and test your resolve. They act out, cry, push, scream, whine, slap, punch and spit. They holler and run. They pull things off the walls and shove things on the floor. There are days when you just want to give up and walk out the door.

There are certainly days when you wonder why you ever thought teaching was a good idea in the first place.

But sometimes, there are days when everything comes together for you.  When the pieces of the puzzle just FIT. When there is clarity and everything murky is finally clear. Days when something happens and a door is opened, a view is granted into the inner sanctum of a child’s private life. And you see for the very first time why it is, this child is angry. Is hurting. Why it is this child is wounded, frustrated, broken and scared. And all of the moments that happened before- when you thought seriously about pulling out your hair and giving up the fight- those moments are all but forgotten.  All but a memory. Because you’ve just seen a child for who they truly are for the very first time.

Seen that their anger is just a disguise for pain.
Seen that their screaming hollers are sometimes a cry for help.
Seen that the physical aggression they exhibit is sometimes a response to what they know as familiar.
Seen that their hurtful words are just the everyday vernacular of their private world.

And in those moments of clarity, you realize: I am a safe haven. I am a lighthouse- a beacon of hope. I am a soft landing for this child. And I am such so that when they come to school, when they come to my classroom- they know they are loved.  Know that they are protected, accepted, wanted, appreciated, valued, enjoyed, liked and seen. They know they don’t have to be afraid. Don’t have to fear.

Because here…they are safe.

That is all I could ever really hope for as a teacher- to be a safe haven and a soft landing for my students to fall on. A person they know who will be there for them, each day and every day… through all the moments, both shining and otherwise.  There to be a caring, loving presence in their lives.  Unwavering through the storms.

As a teacher, it’s all I ever really needed to be.

{photo retrieved from crislorenzana.wordpress.com}

Insignificance: what of the invisible ones?

Recently, a classroom full of children waiting for transition between classes was doing what ‘a classroom full of children’ does naturally during classroom down-time: goofing around and making general mayhem. Thinking fast on her feet, my colleague- the interim teacher- picked up a whiteboard marker and put a word on the board, hoping to grab their attention:

INSIGNIFICANT.

She put down the marker, turned and faced the students and then asked: “Who feels this?”

The classroom immediately became silent so that you could hear a pin drop.

The numerous faces immediately turned serious and all goofing stopped. One by one the students took in the weight of that word. The meaning. And silently, almost every single one of them raised their hands in affirmation.

Almost every one of the kids in that classroom had felt, at one time or another, insignificant.

The disruptive ones.

The quiet ones.

The loud ones.

The disenfranchised ones.

The privileged ones.

The smart ones.

The academically challenged.

The financially stable.

The economically disadvantaged ones.

The impoverished.

Both the ones in name-brand clothing as well as the ones in someone else’s hand-me-downs.

The smart-alecks and the serious.

The class clowns and the introverts.

Every one. Every single one of them.

They all had felt at one point in time in their young lives, insignificant.

The teacher then erased two little letters found in front of the word. She took away ‘in’ and left the letters-

S-I-G-N-I-F-I-C-A-N-T.

She then turned and faced the classroom of children who were at this moment a captive audience.

And she asked them:

Who makes you feel significant?

Who is it that sees your heart? Sees your soul? Who loves you? Who gets you? Who understands? Who sees past your hoodie, your Reeboks, your faded jeans? Your greasy hair? Your amateur attempts at eye-shadow and lip-gloss? Who knows what goes on inside that head of yours? Who knows what you’re all about? Who digs you?

WHO KNOWS YOU ARE NOT INVISIBLE?

And hands went up slowly to share their story. Kids I know. Kids I care about. And I know this because one of those kids was my very own child. Hands went up all over the place. But not all of them.

Not all the hands went up. Not everybody felt significant.

How can this be?

For we believe, do we not: that every student needs to know they are significant.

As teachers, we experience a daily tug-of-war being played out. We are being asked and expected to increasingly go above and beyond the call. This pertaining to every aspect of our job: as it relates to curricular delivery, progress monitoring, assessment, reporting, evaluation, lesson planning and development, testing. The list of academically related expectations could certainly go on. Add to these demands the pull on our heartstrings to act as advocates interceding on behalf of our least advantaged kids. More than ever before, we teachers are acting in parental ways for the children that seemingly need our demonstrative care the most: feeding them, clothing them, looking after hygiene, interceding on their behalf for supports with both inside and outside agencies to the system- holding their hearts and hands gently and empathically when they need a physical sign of nurturing love.

We are being asked a lot.

And we are doing better with the children who desperately need our care, better than ever before. And so we should be. Teaching is a caring profession, first and foremost.

But in thinking about care and who fundamentally needs and requires that care, I have been challenged to think beyond the most critical areas of need to what and whom might also be needing our attention. Leading me to ask the question: what of the ones who fall in between? In other words, how are we enabling all children inside our schools and classrooms to feel significant, valued and seen inside our four walls?

What of the ones who are neither demanding nor critically in need of physical and academic supports, thus unable to grab our attention? What of the quiet, easy ones who are seemingly invisible to our teacher radar?

Please understand me. I firmly and unequivocally believe that we must fiercely, lovingly and carefully advocate for our students with the greatest critical needs, truly ‘seeing’ the behaviorally challenging students we’ve been given- the louder, disruptive ones- as deserving of our attention…so as to convey to them the TRUTH of their significance. These students must daily get affirmation of their significance so as to make that difference in their lives. And may we never neglect to do the same for the ones we know who need special adaptive supports in place so that they are given an equal chance.  So that they are seen as potential and possibility- these students too must be affirmed as significant and valued and worthy. But in addressing areas of urgent need, may we not fail to give that same care to the quieter, less vocal and demonstrative ones who just might feel they are invisible to our teacher radar.

Who just might feel they are invisible.  Period.

I will be the first to say that quiet and introverted doesn’t necessarily mean anything is going wrong.  Neither does loud and crazy. But these personality traits are not also meant to exhibit a unchallenged sense that everything is okay. Sometimes quiet can be as much a cry for attention as a scream. Each student needs us.  Every student needs to know they are valued and seen as significant.  Even the quiet ones.

Fundamentally, what this blog is about is care. Care is what matters to me. Knowing that ALL my students believe in their worth as a human being. Knowing that they ALL understand their significance. Knowing that they ALL come to believe in their inherent value as individuals and members of the wider community. This is what matters. I want every one of my students to know that I SEE THEM.

 I want every one of them to know that I see them.

And encouraging me in this endeavor is what I am seeing out there, beyond my classroom. I am seeing that there are conversations taking place in other classrooms, in staff rooms, in private corners of our schools. There are conversations happening on-line and in virtual chat-rooms, in communities of sharing and through social media. Conversations being initiated through the news media, both written and spoken word. There is more dialogue than ever before about teaching as a caring profession and what that means.

It is time to fully face the fact that teachers are more than educators with an academic mandate. We are equally care-givers. Nurturing guides. Empathic listeners. Compassionate educators. And while we have done a very good job of teaching to the academic requirements of our job, along with reaching out to the populations of students in our classrooms that have great behavioral and physical needs, may we never fail to merely give this care which we bring to our profession only to one or two segments of our school population. We must give care and attention to all of our students.  We must see and value ALL our students as worthy of knowing their incredible consequence and place in this world.

Each one is significant. Each one must be seen.

This is our calling.

The joy of field trips…

Retrieved from Johnston’s Schools website

I came home tonight after watching a killer last set in my daughter’s volleyball game (please do not ask a whole lot of questions about the first four sets, ‘cause that score was kind of private) to which I heard the following anguished cry from Youngest not even five minutes after lighting the home fires:

“Mooooooooommmmmm….(heave, heave, sob, sob)…..I just….(sobbing) burned down my house on Minecraft…accidentally. And it was my favoritest house ever. And I just had made it…..(sobbing).”

It’s interesting how these funny little things follow me around- just begging for me to write about them. We were at the dentist today about a permanent tooth that Daughter had broken two weekends ago on a Saturday afternoon. How do you tell the inquiring dentist that your child broke said tooth playing “Abduct the Baby” with her little sister? It’s just not the normal excuse. And just for the record, the dentist did ask. (I was very vague). I mentioned this all to a friend at the store and she said that her child had also had a similar catastrophe, only to another part of the body while straddling the black bin in their driveway, singing at the top of her lungs.

I could just totally relate- neither one of us thought either occurrence was less than normal. But I guess the average person does not live this way.

So what this story is REALLY about is our school field trip today. Wow, just wow. Where do I begin…? For the record, the above stories were just my warm-up.

How does one frame a blog article about a field trip adventure in which a bus full of three kindergarten classes of children ages 4-5 is pulled off the road for an hour and a half because its crisis exits are screaming “Emergency! Emergency!” in a language all their own? How do you even start discussing bathroom issues? Or temporary bushes with prickles that can serve as the restroom when all else fails? Thank goodness for Kleenex.

All I have to say is this: to those passer-bys that saw a woman jumping up and down, touching her derriere, rubbing her belly and then doing scissors jumps/jumping jacks, you try entertaining 35 youngsters for an hour and a half on the side of the road. I dare you. It’s a game called Simon Says and kids love it. Maybe you’ve heard of it.

Okay, seriously. I am just so thankful for the neighbors who saw me (obscurely, I swear) hiding in the bush with one Little Person and then kindly offered their “facilities” to the rest of the kiddos on the bus. Thank you. Words cannot express… I am sure I looked like a wild woman because at the time I was also trying to protect said child from the dog that kept barking at us from across the road. I was sincerely concerned for everyone’s safety, not the least of which was my own.

Back to the woman across the road. She was simply the best. And what she did was humbling, it was simply just too kind. (Now that I think about it, were we doing them a favor by removing ourselves from the bushes on the sides of their road?) At any rate, that woman deserves a Good Neighbor/Good Citizen award- she was amazing. Simply above and beyond amazing. She turned her television on, offered us her washroom (which we paraded in steadily for the better part of an hour, boots, dirt and all) along with water to drink from her kitchen faucet. And she trusted us enough that she left and drove off with all of us still on her lawn. I mean, really: where but the country would this ever happen. We then continued to enjoy the property, playing numerous games of Duck, Duck Goose and the afore-mentioned Simon Says until the Department of Transportation showed up in all their glory after having got lost a time or two on the back-roads of P.E.I. and generously fixed the bus

It was a time. A TIME I say. I sure had fun.

Needless to say, I had planned a full slate of activities for the day. I am nothing if not a glutton for punishment. I had invited a professional chef to come into the school and bake apple pies with each of my students as a surprise for their parents. Boo hoo, ’cause that unfortunately never happened. But then again: the apples were not ‘all there’, shall we say, by the end of the day anyway (became the snack); even if they had been, cooking pies in a half of an hour would have been even an absolute miracle even for her and she’s one of the most amazing chefs I know.

So, it’s been a slice. A slice of every kind of apple I know, including Honeycrisp (which the bus driver ended up finding and picking for me after I had run all over the orchard looking for them during my five minute break (or I could call it my ‘break your neck’ as that’s my kind of luck), I spent my time aimlessly running around the orchard only to find these beauties were growing in the row marked “Jona Gold”. So that’s how they keep ‘em a secret. Who knew.

Can’t wait for the next field trip.

On stress…

It’s soon bell time and we’re getting ready.

Along with the congested hallways full of lively kids, that bus pass stuck to her locker is quite possibly one of the first things she sees as I open the classroom door to the busy hallway.  That piece of white paper folded and stuck on with a strip of masking tape, the numbers to a different bus marked out in blue-ballpoint pen. I nearly forget the fact of its existence in the end-of-day rush. For it’s time to get ready for home- coats, shoes and backpacks stand by at the ready. All but this One Little are eager for the last ritual of another busy school day.

She’s definitely not up for it today- doesn’t want to do it and makes that point plain to me, arms folded across her chest. I coax and plead, but to no avail. I can feel frustration settle in even as I hear in my voice what resembles annoyance. All I want her to do is put on her coat and shoes so that I can take the students to the bus. She alone refuses, standing in the doorway to our classroom. Not budging. I watch her finally zip up the coat part way, only to zip it down again, leaving it flapping open- and all while I watch on helplessly.

I turn so she cannot see the look on my face, expressing my exasperation in another direction.  My colleague offers quiet suggestions while I compose myself.

We finally get the coat and shoes on, but the former remains unzipped. I decide to pick my battles. As we head to the bus with a few minutes to spare, another predicament emerges. That bus pass which I had not taken into account is all of a sudden the focal point of our attention. She doesn’t want to go on the new bus- as a different driver awaits, this unfamiliar face being the very last straw for both her and me. She hides behind me as I turn like a dog chasing its tail. As I move, so does she. We dance this awkward two-step until I stop and look her in the eye:

“Are you afraid of going on a different bus?” I ask.

She nods her head and grunts a little affirmative. I finally understand, but am left still to deal with the very real predicament of her balking in the parking lot. We are nowhere near her bus. I look around and wonder who I can get for help. Each child I ask, Little One shakes her head ‘no’ to and then pulls away, shrinking in behind me as if to disappear from sight. I have no idea how this is all going to end.  No idea what options are left at my disposal. Finally, support arrives in the form of a Big Friend from the bus.  We are all relieved and tell her so. She offers to take my Little One’s hand and walks her to the bus.

My Little One acquiesces. Offer received. I breathe a sigh of relief. We’ve overcome one hurdle. And that’s all I need for today.

*****************

The very next day, another Little Guy finds out that there is a change in his bus driver as well, and he too is almost paralyzed with fear. He forgets where to place his shoes in our familiar cubby, eyes glazed over as he loses himself in worry. I walk him to his bus and while I stand at the foot of the bus step, I look over to see him sitting there in the front row, tears welling up in his eyes. He is so fearful he cannot even process the lively banter around him. I call him to come to me, and I wrap my arms around him with the warmth of my embrace. It doesn’t matter that this isn’t protocol- as far as I am concerned, it’s the only human thing I can think to do right now.

******************

And so it goes.

I talk to a teacher in the hallway on a more personal level about the stress of an evening earlier on in the week at the Gard house, and we both laugh at the absurdity of the stories we tell. But underneath the laughter is a strain of forced notes and flattened chords. We are pushing ourselves to do more, be more.  Make more. “That speaks of the stress everyone is under in the system,” another colleague listening in wisely offers.

It’s everywhere… and rampant. Stress. We all feel it and it takes but a moment for the seed of contention to conceive and develop. Stress. I see it in children’s eyes, in their faces. Stress. Fear of the unknown, of new situations. Of failure. I see it in my colleagues eyes too at the end of another busy day. I hear it in my own Four Dear Ones banter with me at the start of the day- from angst over misplaced items, to bigger worries and fears that are becoming more and more unexpressed.

I feel it in my gut: it’s why I walk our country road each and every day.  I have to- my body and mind demand it.

I don’t like all this stress- it’s eating us alive.

*************

It’s a new day, and I determine to make this one an opportunity for possibility. I run into problems before we even break for lunch- a Little One balking again at the instructions for a game she is playing with friends. This time, instead of feeling immediate annoyance, I try to put myself into Her shoes and I ask questions that enable her to express her fears and concerns. Instead of trying to understand it through my experience, I try to see it through her’s. And what I see first is a child who is afraid.   But then I start to see something else- a glimpse, really. Of a child who, with the right supports, has every possibility to learn to overcome.  Who has the tools within her to let stress go and embrace the joy of living.

I hold her hand and we walk hand in hand. And I feel it.

The stress is gone.  Here comes the joy…

What I’m Learning Today

First, let me share with you some funnies:

Me (reading a Robert Munsch book called Class Clown to my students): “Boys and girls, the teacher in this story tells Leonardo that he can’t THINK anymore—isn’t that crazy!! Teachers can’t say that…”
Little Boy: “Well, I don’t think at school anyway…I only think at home…”

*******************

Little Boy (playing Doctor/patient with me): “Open your mouth.”

Me (with my mouth wide open, tongue hanging out)

Little Boy: “You have two golden teeth. You’re going to die soon.”

*******************

Little Boy (speaking of his parents who are about my age; which is to say- very, very young: “My Dad is older than my Mom. He’s going to die soon.”

******************

I am a teacher.

I write about love, care and compassion, among other topics of the heart. I teach real people- some of them ‘Littles’ with outrageous personalities and larger than life imaginations. Some of them ‘Olders’ who join in with our class for special times of painting, crafts and reading. I teach children with many abilities, talents, dreams, imaginations, wonders, fears, worries, questions, concerns, passions and joys.  Just like me.  So much like me.  And so, I teach to learn.  To learn about myself and how I relate to the world around me.

And here’s what I am learning about myself through teaching.

  1. You can’t have too much laughter in a day. There is never enough laughter. Never enough joy. We need to smile more, laugh more, find pleasure more in the everyday moments. There are times in my day where I find myself slipping into that all-too-familiar pattern of sense and sensibility. I call it teacher mode. It’s a way of thinking that calls to mind order, organization, structure and routine. And all this is well and good- even necessary. But at times, when I am in this mode of thinking, I find myself feeling a tightness in my center. A feeling of pressure right on my gut. Pulling me inward even as I grasp outward for something to ground me. This feeling is one brought on by stress- brought on by pressure. And there are many, many pressures in my line of work. Outcomes to be met, expectations to be exceeded, guidelines to be followed, programs to be delivered. So much to adhere to and so many rules to follow. It all comes together to a crest inside my inmost being causing me to feel panic, fear and desperation.

Causing me to lose my joy.

So I have taken to reading Robert Munsch in the middle of my day- every day. I love Bob. I once wrote him and he responded back- writing me at least twice. He is a hero of children’s imaginations and my class knows him by name- we look at his picture, name his line of work and talk about his job every day before we read his stories. What Bob has done for me and my kids is make us smile- on more than one occasion. Sometimes, he even makes me laugh. I know one thing for sure- he makes the kids laugh. He’s just that kind of guy.

We can’t ever have enough of this kind of stress-release. We need more laughter, more silly and more release from our uptight, tense and edgy state of being induced by too many mandates and protocols. We all need a little more Munsch in our lives. A little more silly.

  1. You can’t ever have too much love in your heart. There is no reason why teachers cannot love their students. No reason at all. Who dictates the ways of the heart or tells a soul not to love? Our hearts are wide enough, deep enough and capable of enough- why can we not then allow love in freedom to flow?

I am always amazed when students wrap their little arms around my waist and declare their love. I was on duty today and I had a circle of little girls that clung to my hands as I walked around. I could feel their love for me as palpably as I could feel the balmy autumn breezes. If a child can be open to love, why not us too?

The other day, I met a former student of mine in the hallway. I asked him for a hug and he responded with the biggest bear hug I could imagine. Nearly knocking me off of my feet. And while this might seem commonplace for many teachers, for me- knowing the child who gave this hug and knowing their story, it meant so much more than just a gesture. What I felt in that hug was a connection- a bond. Built on layer and layers of shared experiences, trusts and understandings. What this little boy with the absence of speech told me in that moment was this: I love you. And I felt that love with every fibre of my being.

  1. There is not enough time in this world to devote to listening. And by listening, I mean from the heart. I told my students by way of the morning message this morning that they were great listeners. And by that, I meant to inspire them to become more and more the great listeners I know they have the potential to be. Listening to each other, the world and its many voices- but most of all, listening to that voice that speaks to them from within. Listening is a learned art. A valuable asset. Through listening, we can understand ourselves and others around us. We can come to know ourselves better and know others more intimately. And through listening, we can come to find out that as people, we are more alike than different. When we find common ground, we are less likely to find fault with others. Listening is not a passive thing. It is perhaps the strongest thing we might ever choose to do with our minds.
  2. There is always tomorrow. There are days I drop the ball completely. Days that still haunt me for the ignorance I displayed, the callous I showed to those I hold most dear. I am still troubled by past mistakes at times, as we all can be when we choose to focus on the negative. But there is always another day. Always another opportunity. When we fail or disappoint ourselves, we always have tomorrow to try again. This is the grace we’ve been given- the grace of second chances. And when we offer second and third and more chances to others, we show them that grace is full and free. It is wide and open. Just as we desire it to be with our own situation. Just as we need it to be in our own lives. That there is tomorrow is a clear sign of hope. And classrooms without hope are among the most dismal places on earth. May we never forget: there is always room for grace.

At least, that’s what I am learning in my journey today.

Believe

They showed up one morning. Could have been any morning, really. And there they were. Bright eyes, smiling. Hello, Mrs. Gard and then the pause. Waiting for my response. Their faces searching mine for that encouraging smile.

Do I believe in them?

He fell asleep every single day in my history class. The room was dark and calming, a glow from the overhead bulb the only light. His long hours at the fish plant gave him little time to sleep. Little time to be the teenager he should have been.  Little time to care about facts and dates.

Did I believe in him then?

The boy and his mother walk the halls. It’s his first day of school ever, coming up this Thursday. There are fears and worries, but mostly just excitement. Everything is new and inviting. School is cool when you’re four.

Do I believe in him?

Do I believe… in them?

Teachers: we have children who will walk into our lives, into our halls and into our classrooms in the days ahead. They will have stories and experiences, expectations and worries- hopes and fears. They will have dreams. Dreams they believe in.

Do I believe in them?

We have children coming who will challenge our patience, try our tolerance, question our leading, test our resolve. Children coming who will make us laugh and make us cry. And some who will make us want to shelter them with everything we’ve got. These children- they will work their way into our hearts. Will work their way into our world. We will come to love them like our very own. We will teach them, listen to them, care for them, nurture them, inspire them, learn from them, hope for them. And when we have to, we will fight for them.

And all because we believe in them. Because we care.

Do you believe?

Do you believe in them?

For if you do, they will believe in themselves too. They will believe they can.

And because they can, they will:

Learn.

Grow.

Understand.

Discover.           

Mature.

Develop.

Into the amazing, creative human beings they were meant to be. And they too will inspire and encourage others to believe in themselves. To believe that they too CAN.  And all this because YOU believed. Because we as teachers believed in them.

Believe.

Because that’s one small step we teachers can take to make the incredible happen.