Sunday, May 10, 2015

Thank you

Instead of hitting "print" once, I accidentally sent the job to my printer twice early Friday morning. Fingers crossed that my children in the next room wouldn't wake each time the color ink cartridges slid across the printer, I let my mistake go. I'm sure someone else could use the extra copies. But they didn't. I needed all of the extra copies. In fact, I wish I had accidentally printed more.

On Friday morning, I printed out a simple template for a note card, an apple at the bottom of the page with the note "you are appreciated."  For the last day of Teacher Appreciation Week, I had my high school students write a note to a teacher that made an impact on their lives, any teacher from kindergarten through high school.  Instead of cracking jokes or dashing off a hastily written thank-you, I watched as my students quietly set to work, pen in hand and crouching low over their desks, crafting heartfelt letters to second grade teachers and biology teachers and middle school social studies teachers. And then the first hand shot up. At first I thought he had made a mistake, wanted to write his letter over. Instead, "Ms. Ward? Can I please have another one? I'd like to write another letter." Then another hand and another.  Throughout the day this scene repeated itself. I had printed out about 96 note cards. By my last class of the day, I had completely run out.

During my second block, as I walked around the room watching students craft letters and share stories, I was hit in the arm with a paper airplane. I looked over my left shoulder and was met with a sheepish smile. "For you, Ms. Ward."  Inside, the student had quickly scrawled, "Thank you Ms. Ward for helping me discover a talent I never knew I had."

This is a student who I had earlier in the year as a creative writing student and who now sits in my tenth grade honors English class. I got to know him first through his writing: snarky and clever, quick-witted and insightful. The voice of his narrator leapt from the page; his poetry sang honest and vulnerable. But when he started in my tenth grade English class the following semester, his first essay lacked that voice. So I told him that he needed to bring our creative writing class into tenth grade English. His academic writing would be stronger if he let his voice shine. He is a writer. I'm not sure how he did not know this. But I think this is the unquantifiable part of what it means to be a teacher. A teacher opens up space for discovery. This was reinforced over and over again in the letters that my students wrote Friday.

My students were not writing letters to say thank-you for a good grade or for performing well on a particular test. Instead, my students wrote to the teachers who had pushed them, to the teachers who did not give them the best grade but who had challenged them and saw potential. Students wrote letters to the teachers who opened opportunities for students to explore, who gave them space to share their stories. They crafted thank-you letters to the teachers who had helped them come through problems at home, helped them come to terms with loss, who helped them realize their personal responsibility and power.

By the close of Friday, I had the pleasure of sharing 96 thank-you notes with my colleagues and friends who make a difference every single day. I am grateful to work with such talented and caring peers and with students who recognize these qualities in their teachers.

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