My first morning of a new school year, in my first job as a qualified teacher, is a day I will never forget.
As I was plastering the pin-boards with encouraging posters, a parent stood looming in the doorway. I don't remember the whole conversation but her final sentence is permanently etched in my memory. Having told me that she was a member of the school board and that her daughter Naomi would be in my class, she concluded sternly…
"I have been known to make teachers cry. So let that be a warning to you!"
I also recollect that I pulled myself up to my full five feet and at the grand old age of 22 replied,
"Well I am sure you will have no need to make me cry."
I have no idea where that strength or audacity came from, but as soon as she left, I realized that my body that had had a fluttering heart when the conversation began, was in full pneumatic drill motion after she left.
During that first term of teaching, I waged war. Each day was a new battle, with students who called out, did not say please and thank you, were hard to control in the corridors and even though they were only 8, knew that many of their parents, who had built the school brick by brick, could eat me for breakfast.
I cannot pinpoint the sea change, only that slowly but surely, the eight year olds and I were becoming a team. They learned that I would not call on them if they called out. They understood that manners were important and that sloppy work was something I didn't accept. I hoped that my enthusiasm and creativity on the job made up for my lack of experience.
Gradually I began to understand each child and they began to understand me!
At some point in the middle of the school year my theme was "Fire" and the students made firetrucks from mathematical nets, learned about the Chicago fire, and practiced their still life drawing skills by drawing "things that can burn."
Now you will recall Naomi, with the Dragon mother. On the outside she appeared sullen and stubborn, but underneath I sensed she lacked self esteem and was very unhappy. However something about drawing this still life caught her attention. She surprised herself by reproducing a bleach bottle so realistically that I saw her wide, beautiful smile for the first time. This was a turning point for Naomi, in terms of her confidence and her willingness to step out of her comfort zone. She went on to write some beautiful poetry and produce work in which she could take great pride......
And as for her mother?
I didn't hear from her.
Not a peep or a roar, all year long.
Until the last day of school, when Naomi bought me an envelope.
Inside were two hand written thank you notes. One from Naomi and one from her mother. As you can tell I have not forgotten this mother's first conversation with me. But I have also treasured the messages of appreciation at the end of the school year. I still have them to this day.
Since that time, some of the most precious and unexpected gifts that I have received as a teacher and in other roles, have been the letters, messages, emails, tweets and texts, people have sent me. These have often arrived long after the events they are relating to and often I had no idea that I was having any impact at all. Those kind, thoughtful, generous words are the ones I have kept. They are the feedback that, while not expected, has made my actions all the sweeter.
Fast forward 24 years and I have spent the morning with a friend, preparing for the teacher appreciation lunch, given by school parents for their seniors and school staff to attend. This is a chance for the students and parents to express appreciation for the myriad of things the staff have done for them, many actions above and beyond their job description. It is also a way to reenforce for our children the importance of giving positive and meaningful feedback to the people who have impacted their lives in big and small ways.
As a teacher, blogger, friend, parent and spouse there is nothing more meaningful or encouraging to receive than a few thoughtful words to let me know I've made a difference.
We all lead busy lives, crossing paths with many people who help us. The ultimate way we can show appreciation for these gifts, is to take a few minutes of our valuable time to let them know how much we appreciate what they have done for us.(And it is never too late to write that note.)
Who will you appreciate today?
Thank you for all your feedback. I keep every positive message. :-)
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