I remember this time of year in the classroom. It’s the time of year when I drove to and from school in the dark. Every so often I would catch a glimpse of the sun either rising or setting, but that probably meant I was taking lots of work home in order to spend less time in the classroom. It’s the time of year when you know your students well enough to read their mood when they walk in the door in the morning and have a fairly good idea of why they are feeling that way.
This is that time of year when things are fairly silent in regards to you and what you do. At the beginning of the school year there are all kinds of pump up messages and “We’re so thankful we were placed in your class!” notes. At the end of the year there are the accolades and the teary hugs good-bye as you hear that you were the best teacher they ever had.
But now? Now it’s just silence. Or worse, there are the doubts. Are you doing enough? Are you reaching every child? The big things looming right now are conferences, report cards, and testing. I know that at least one of those words is like nails on a chalk board to your ears. Maybe all three.
I also know that the current state of education in America – especially public education – is at a critical turning point. There are plenty of people with loud voices but not much experience or knowledge of what you do that want to change the system. There are plenty of people making big claims about what’s best for kids, but they only seem to have a few select groups of kids in mind. But you. You are in it every single day. You are the one with the kids. And regardless of the outside voices, critics, praisers, doubters, or cheerleaders, you are still the one welcoming those students into your classroom every day with a smile. Yours is the name they will remember. Yours are the words that will run through their minds days, weeks, and years from now. You might feel like a lot is being taken away from you, but these students coming to your classroom every day still need you, and you still have incredible influence on them.
So I wanted to write you a little note to remind you of all the small things you’re doing every day. I still see them. I think others do too, but we forget to tell you when the school year is simply moving along.
This is the first year I’ve been on the opposite side of the door at drop off. There are all kinds of emotions that go with dropping your child off to school on the first day or after a hard morning. But here’s the thing, teachers -- every single day, we are dropping off our hopes and our hearts with you. We trust you to take care of them, to encourage them, to hope big things and let them find a place in your heart too. And that is no small thing.
You are partnering with us parents this year. You are helping our children see others as important. When you care for all of your students, you show our children that they are each worthy to be cared for. You show them how one person can love all kinds of personalities, quirks, and yes, really frustrating habits. You show them that they are worthy of love and care simply because they walked in your door.
When you refuse to give up on them, they understand that they are worth fighting for. I know that this is the time of year that you might be running out of energy for that fight. I know that there are new battles coming up that you didn’t expect to be so hard. They see your effort. We see your effort. They are worth the paperwork and the hard conversations and the late night inspiration to try something new tomorrow. Keep fighting. They see you and they’re worth it.
In June, it’s easy to look back and see the amazing progress each student has made since September. Take a moment to look at the progress they’ve made now too. That encouragement is so important to you, to them, and to us as parents if you share. Maybe it’s simply that the preschooler who cried every day for the first three months and never wanted to play with anyone else walked in the door with a smile and asked a friend for help instead of wallowing in frustration. Maybe it’s a first grader who claimed to hate reading a few months ago, but is now curled up with her favorite book in your reading corner. Maybe it’s a fifth grader who couldn’t come up with one idea for a personal narrative essay but just wrote a beautiful poem about the tensions of the American Revolution. Celebrate these things now. Don’t wait until the end of the year for a big wrap up. You are doing work that matters and these students are benefiting from it right now. Acknowledge it.
Your students are learning to work together to value others, to look out for each other, to offer help. They’re discovering passions they didn’t know they had because of you. This world you’re teaching in is filled with uncertainty – more for some students than for others. Regardless, continue to be a constant source of comfort and security for them. You never know the day that even the least likely student will need that sense of comfort and security.
When I taught in a suburb outside Seattle, I had the privilege of welcoming students at the door each day from all over the world. One year we had 17 different languages represented within the four walls of our classroom. I am so, so thankful that my daughter’s preschool classroom in New York City is just as diverse as the ones in which I taught. This is what makes our classrooms rich learning environments. Even if your students were all born in the town where you teach, celebrate the diversity of thought or family background that does exist and teach them to love and look out for people who are not just like them.
Here’s the thing. You are sending your students out the door each day with much more important things than knowledge and homework. They carry your words, encouraging looks, and kindness with them as they go. They will carry what you’ve taught them out into this world that can be a scary and uncertain place. And that is no small thing.
I know when you teach, you fall deeply in love with these kids, knowing that you will have to let them go in just a few short months. To love like that and care that deeply is hard work, but it’s important. So don’t let the stress of looming report cards, conferences, and testing overtake you in these long middle months of the school year. Your students are so much more than a grade or a test score anyway. They are worth celebrating and fighting for. And so are you. Thank you for the love and energy you pour in to your students. As much as you can, keep your eyes on them and not the outside expectations. They are the reason you wanted to be a teacher.
With love, gratitude, and an extra shot of caffeine for you,