Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Moments We Teach For

The job of teaching is not for the faint of heart. No one becomes a teacher to make a fortune. We become teachers because we love learning, because we love kids, and because we know that education is the key to so much of what is good and true in this world.

The good news is that if you hang around long enough and if you really put your heart into, this job of teaching will reward you in the most glorious ways.

And, here are some of those moments from just this week:

1. It's too hard for me.

We have a boy in the Center this year who comes from a war-torn country. He has some big gaps in his education. Math is hard for him and his self-confidence in math is at the bottom of the barrel. I'm working on long-subtraction with him. His go-to phrases are, " I can't do it. It's too hard, Ms. Too hard."

I am working diligently on replacing these words with, "Yes, this is hard, but you can do it. We have to keep going. Little by little you'll learn it. Do not give up." (Definitely Growth Mindset stuff. See Carol Dweck for the proof.)

Look- long subtraction really CAN be a beast if it's new to you. We've kept at it. This week- a breakthrough. He was sitting with me working and he showed me his paper and HE WAS DOING IT! HE WAS GETTING IT!

You better believe I made a big deal over it. High fives, fist bumps, hugs. Then I looked him in the eye and I held his gaze and I said, "Repeat after me. I can do hard things. I can learn. I will not give up." He repeated all of it. And, his eyes lit up in that way that shows there has been a shift in how a child sees himself, in his confidence. And, THAT is an amazing reward.

2. I want to be a teacher.

We have the sweetest girl from a country in Asia. She is quiet, shy, and brilliant. You have to listen really closely if you want to hear what she has to say. You also have to look closely if you want to see how amazing she is, because she's not going to be loud and show off about it.

We took the kids ice skating a week ago. The majority had never done this before. They all tried and most of them went after it with gusto. This girl already knew and after a while we noticed that she was teaching one girl after another how to skate.

And, she was doing teacher-y things like first demonstrating, then holding their hand and doing it with them, then letting go and having them do it on their own. She was gentle and patient and encouraging and she helped girl after girl learn how to skate.

My colleague made a point of telling her she noticed this and what a natural teacher she was.

This week, the girl wrote in an essay about herself, "I want to be a teacher like Ms. Z. and Ms. L."

There is no greater compliment.

3. Confianza. (Confidence)

We had parent-teacher conferences this week. It's so fun when you get the pleasure of telling parents how well their kids are doing, how much they are growing, and what stellar human beings they are. To see first relief and then pride and happiness wash over a parent's face is a beautiful moment. So went one of our conferences this week.

Their daughter looked so terrified when she started with us in the fall. She had a decent educational background but was so reserved and shy about speaking. Little by little she has become more comfortable. She has many friends. She is trying to participate a bit more.

We showed her excellent and beautiful work to her parents. We showed them her growth in all of the subjects. We told them that she's kind, respectful, helpful and that they have obviously done a great job raising her. I told them I just wanted to see her speak up more. She almost always knows the answer or has something she can contribute and I want her to push herself a little more in this area.

The following morning, I just had to tease her a little bit. I said, "Que dijo tu mama y papa? Muchas cosas malas?" What did your mom and dad say? A lot of bad things?

She laughed and gave me a big hug and told me in English all the great things she had heard. She was so happy.

Later, she raised her hand in class more than she ever has.

And, there was confidence all over her face.

4. You SO cute today!

Last week, we took the Newcomers ice skating so I dressed in athletic clothes for the day and had my hair up in a pony-tail.

When one of our girls saw me in the morning, she said, "You SO cute today, Miss." Then she gave me her signature thumbs-up, wink, and little cluck-click sound.

Then on Thursday, she came into our room in the morning, shut the door, and whipped off her hijab to reveal her new hair cut. It had gone from waist-length to right on the shoulders. So adorable. Then she said, "Now I'm same for Miss!" (thumbs up, wink, cluck-click.)

Finally, yesterday, we had all the students write about themselves. At one point in her paragraph, she wrote, "I love Ms. L. and Ms. Z." She finds a way to write this in most of her assignments, no matter the topic.

I mean, come on, how could you not love a job like this with a beautiful little spitfire like this lavishing love on you every day?


I work hard. I work some long hours. I worry constantly that I'm not doing enough. I have bad days. There are many days when the kids are difficult and they make me crazy. There are times when they aren't kind to each other and that makes me feel a special kind of crazy. I wake up in the middle of the night remembering that I need to turn in a form so a student can get counseling or that I need to talk to a certain student about something they said or did that raised a red flag for me. It's not easy. There are challenges. Roadblocks are often put in the way.

And yet, as much I give of myself, I receive so much in return. The abundance is overwhelming. These kids make my heart explode in a million different ways. There is something really special and unique about these kids.

Sometimes I wonder if because their language is still developing, they need to speak simply so they say direct things like, "I love you." or You're the best teacher I ever had." more freely.

Sometimes generous people say things to me like those kids are so lucky to have you. I appreciate that. And, I know I'm a good teacher for these students.

But the truth is, I am the lucky one. These gorgeous little souls have graced my life and I will never be the same.

They have left a huge mark on my heart.

And every one of those marks makes me a better teacher and a better human.

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