Tuesday, August 31, 2010

I No Longer Work In a Classroom, but I am Still a Teacher...

Eight years have come and gone since I last stood in an elementary school classroom. It seems like only yesterday I was being recognized for my 4 years of service as the 6th grade Accelerated Learning Lab teacher, at what would be my last end-of-year faculty lunch. I remember the parting words I shared with my teaching colleagues, many who had become not only trusted mentors, but close personal friends.

"Today, I am giving up something I truly love," I said, "for something I love even more."

That day, I said good-bye to an absolutely thrilling and fulfilling teaching career in favor of spending my days being a full-time mom to my then only child, Jacob. Since then, we have added 3 more precious children to our family, and I have never regretted that decision. I am thankful that I continue to be blessed with the opportunity to stay home and raise my children.

As most moms can attest, motherhood can be a relatively "thankless" job, especially with young children who don't always recognize the daily sacrifice involved in raising a family and running a household. Often I've wondered if I'm doing enough to teach my children right from wrong. Are my expectations high enough, or do I expect too much? Do I spend enough time with them? Do they truly know how much I love them? Do they know I would give my life for them?

I remember wondering many of these same questions when I was teaching school. I adored my students and couldn't imagine a more fulfilling job. I was teaching some of the brightest, most creative and talented students imaginable. And, they were teaching me.

I wondered on a daily basis if I was doing enough to foster an environment that would encourage academic, social and emotional growth, while simultaneously allowing each to feel loved and valued. Was I teaching them life lessons as well as the "core curriculum"? When they left my classroom, would they be armed with the tools they needed to move confidently and successfully forward in life? As each year came to a close, I felt a tremendous loss as each class moved on to junior high, knowing my time with them was through. I hoped I had done all I could for them. It was with great hope in their potentials, that I promised them I would keep tabs on them as they continued on their journey. I knew they would each do amazing things with their lives. I have not been disappointed.

With advances in technology and social media, it's been amazing to stay connected with almost all of these "kids", who are now full-fledged adults making their mark on the world. Recently, I received several surprising letters from some of these former students. Here are some small excerpts from a few of the letters (I will explain my purpose in sharing them at the end):

"Thanks for playing such a big role in my education. I credit you for my decision to become a teacher. I have gained such respect for you through my small experiences in the teaching field. It makes me realize just how talented you really are and how lucky I was to be in your class..." --A.H.Z.

From another student, "I want to thank you for being a wonderful teacher. It is difficult to express just how much you have impacted my life for good...I have always remembered the striking difference in atmosphere, and in the quality of my teacher, from the day I walked into your 6th grade class...You became an important symbol to me of standing for what was right, of being kind, of being strong, of being fair, and of being what I wanted to be...Some of my fondest memories of my life are from the time I spent in the Gifted and Talented program, and in your class..." --S.S.

"You were hands down the best teacher I ever had!!! I remember more from my six grade class than I do in all of my Jr. High and High school combined! I have so many wonderful memories from our class and could not have asked for a better example than you! I hope you know what an amazing influence you were in my life and every young life you touched during your years as a teacher. I can honestly say I am eternally blessed to know you and to have learned so much from you. And not only the standard state curriculum. You taught us so much more than that! You taught us about life, our self-worth and potential and most importantly.... TO BE PECULIAR! I've carried that with me throughout life and it has been a tremendous help! Knowing that it's okay to be different and stand up for what I know is right in every situation. It's something I will surely pass down to my children. So thank you for everything! Honestly, there are no words that seem sufficient enough to describe my gratitude for you. But I would certainly regret not trying at all. So thank you..." --M.T.O.

And finally-- "I love you and your amazing lessons. Since I moved on from your class I have always referred to you as my best and most influential teacher. You are just amazing. I have never forgotten the life lessons you taught us when you read to us "You are Special" with profound concern and sincerity. I have never forgotten how you nurtured my idealistic "I can do anything" spirit and allowed me to build a SPACE SHIP at the school. I will never forget your kindness in how you treated us. I will never forget how much you valued honesty and integrity. You were always watching out for the underdogs and you promoted unity unlike any individual I have come accross in my life. I feel like I need another teacher like you in my life at this stage of my life where I now make the decisions that determine the path and course of my forever." --C.V.

As a teacher, you can imagine the flood of emotions that came over me as I read these heartfelt notes of appreciation from individuals I care deeply about. Each tender letter arrived on a particularly difficult motherhood day when I was struggling with feelings of frustration and helplessness in my divine role. They came at a time when I needed to feel capable of making a difference. Capable of doing something right. These wonderful students had found value in the work that I had done years ago as their teacher. They wanted me to know they had taken the things I had passionately shared with them and made use of them in their lives. I sobbed while reading each note. A flood of wonderful memories came to my mind. Oh, how I loved these kids.

I've thought about those letters many times in the last few weeks. I've pulled them out and re-read the words countless times. Once again, as they had many times before, my students were teaching me. They were reminding me of important life lessons. First, they reminded me of the importance of showing gratitude and how wonderful it feels to be appreciated. Secondly, they reminded me of the power of a personal note/letter. And most importantly, they reminded me, of the tremendous influence for good I can be in the lives of children, and it doesn't always require a classroom or a salary.

I may not be these students' teacher any longer, but I am still a teacher. My most important students are the 4 children that call me "Mom". Oh, how I love these kids!


Megan O said...

Wow, this post made me cry. You truly are an amazing teacher and you're children are certainly lucky to be able to call you mom! I look forward to the day I can teach my children and certainly hope I can do as good of a job as you did for me!

jordyn said...

I'm seriously so glad I've been able to keep in touch with you after all these years. You were such a great teacher & I tell people about you all the time! & I know I look up to how you are with your kids and all the fun things you do for them. It's obvious you put a lot of energy into your kids because you love them so much and I just hope that as I start my own little family I can do the same for them. :)