It’s The Little Things

There are ten days of school left, and if I were any good at math, I’d break it down to the hours, minutes, and seconds. But who’s counting?

Okay. I’ll be honest. The teachers are counting. And we’re counting hard.

This time of year is the hardest. We’re busy. We’re tired. There’s so much to be done and no energy or enthusiasm to do it. We’re completely enervated. Yet, we cannot curl under our desk and hide from the students. We’re on. All of the time. The kids come in and complain about work and offer their unsolicited wisdom: “Hey, Ms. L, do you know what you could do to make your class more enjoyable?”. A part of me dies inside because I cannot respond, “Do you know what you could do to be more enjoyable in the class?”.

Then there’s graduation and all of the kids that teachers wrote letters of recommendation for and did not receive any recognition of gratitude (unless you consider a breezy “thanks” as they saunter out the door with the letter you slaved an hour or two over, dredging your memory for the times they shone in class). And then there’s the AP students who get accepted to prestigious universities, but who also did not take the AP exam after promising you they would. And the student who continuously fails and does not use the rope you continually toss to him to save himself. He prefers to drown instead. Or when you suggest to students to voluntarily write a letter to a teacher–any teacher–for teacher appreciation week and the students’ response is, “I’ll do it for extra credit.” I won’t go into the multitudinous emails and meetings that eat up energy and time. Or how people who don’t teach think they know everything about teaching. Or the stack of papers that need to be graded that miraculously regenerates itself: it never goes away.

There’s a lot that brings us down, makes our hair gray, and deepens our crow’s feet. But there are quiet moments in the class that give a glimmer of hope and catches us off guard. The boy who was scolded for doing a lackadaisical job on his study guide raising his hand and asking for me to check his work on the new study guide. It reveals vast improvement. The boy who seemed like he was humoring me all term suddenly asking, quite earnestly, if I was going to read his name at graduation. The students who did take the AP test excited because they could apply the baptism archetype and students at other schools had been stymied by the same prompt. The unexpected thank you note from a former student who ignores me when he sees me in the hall. The parent who, after the Senior Awards Night, invited me to join the family for dinner.

Teachers don’t need Starbuck’s gift cards, t-shirts, big signs, or coffee mugs to get through the day (but I will admit, chocolate helps a lot). We don’t want an award or fanfare. It’s the signs of life in our students– their displays that they care: about their work, their learning, and even on occasion, their teachers. Anything really that shows that we’re getting through to them. It’s the little things that count.

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8 thoughts on “It’s The Little Things

  1. I feel for you! After struggling with my own son who resists writing (homework, homework,homework) but reads fanatically (some things over and over), I wonder at how any teacher can work with more than one kid at a time. When i do library time, I feel pulled in 12 different directions. kudos and more kudos to you for doing more than just showing up. You care, and that means EVERYTHING!! Hang in there. Summer is almost here!

    1. I completely empathize with being pulled in various directions. Sometimes I think the biggest lesson I teach my kids are “wait your turn” and “please do not interrupt– I am answering someone else’s question at the moment”. I think most teachers in the profession care about their students; I know my colleagues do. It is frustrating when our students don’t care.

      1. This has got me thinking, now. Our pediatrician suggested we use the strategies from a book called The Nurtured Heart: Dealing with the Difficult Child, because our son has Executive Function difficulties, meaning he has trouble organizing his belongings, his homework, his thoughts. And he has trouble focusing, controlling impulses, and using his words instead of being physical. We’ve been using that approach and a point system to shape his behavior. But he’s always been a kid who when he gets discouraged, pretends he doesn’t care. The book makes the point that this is a common symptom of kids who struggle like our son. If they can’t do something the first time, or the second, they tend to get discouraged, give up, and then tell everyone around them that they don’t care. It’s a way to protect and already damaged self-esteem. Kids like my son hear so many more negative things about their behavior during the day that they internalize this and then their own self-talk is always negative. So we’ve ramped up noticing when he does things that are a given for a other kids. And when he takes a step beyond that, we notice. We recognize when he’s put in a lot of effort–for him, because just the idea of trying to write something overwhelms him. I don’t know if this makes any sense, but our pediatrician was saying that boys, in general, are having a tough time with curriculum that is demanding more than their brains are ready to give. And when they start giving up in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades, it’s tough to get them motivated in later years. Apparently, this nurtured heart approach is being used in tough schools and achieving some decent results. I know we’ve seen an improvement in behavior. We’re still struggling with writing, though. And we’re trying to figure out if typing and/or dictation help. Sometimes he can’t hold a thought in his head long enough to get it down on paper. And his thoughts tend to be complex because he reads at such a high level. Food for thought.

      2. It is definitely worth looking into and trying. I’m willing to try just about anything to motivate my kids. I wonder, though, how many of my boys, now 16-18, have given up long ago. I have some boys who are not even interested. The problems they face are much bigger than me. That doesn’t mean, however, that I can stop trying to reach them. Thank you for the suggestion.

  2. I don’t do a countdown since it seems to prolong the anticipation. I hear you on many of the mentions made. Wait–there was a baptism prompt on the AP exam? I hope my students remembered their Reading as a Lit Professor notes!
    Enjoy the remains of the day, as Mr Stevens would say.

    1. Right now I’m counting down till the three-day weekend. Apparently the passage on the exam was really dry and straightforward. They had to look at how the author used literary devices to reveal characterization. The character got naked, lied on the beach, and let waves wash over him. My students– also trained via Reading like a Prof saw baptism. How do you use that book in the classroom? So far I’ve selected key chapters and had them apply them to Like Water for Chocolate.

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