Happy Teacher Appreciation Week
Before I was a Mom, I was a Special Education Teacher for almost 11 years. I loved my job, and I loved my kids. I poured my heart and soul into my kids and their families. My job was also physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually draining. I worked hard day in and day out to meet my kids where they were and to push them to be the best they could be. Every day, I took my work home with me, not physically, but emotionally. I worried about their well-being, I problem solved with their parents over the phone, I questioned, “Am I doing enough?” I always wondered if I was going to make a lasting impact on their life.
Everyone always told me that teaching is very rewarding. When I was in the trenches, I didn’t understand this. Being a Special Education Teacher, a lot of my kids didn’t enjoy school. School was academically and/or socially challenging for them. Sure I had some students that enjoyed school, but most didn’t. Over the years, I’ve kept in touch with a few students here and there, but for the most part, they would move on to the next grade and eventually become lost in the crowd. Not because I didn’t care but because that’s what happens. A new year, a new set of teachers, and so on and so forth.
Today I took the kids to a local farm to get some chocolate ice cream. It was just one of those days where open green spaces and ice cream would be a cure-all. As my daughter bellied up to the counter I heard a woman go to the back and call for another girl, let’s call her “Ashley,” to come wait on us. As Ashley came around the corner her face was very familiar (I have this uncanny ability to remember just about every face I come across but usually not their name). I asked her if she was “Ashley Conrad” and she said yes and looked at me like, “How in the world do you know my name because I’m not sure who you are?” I explained to her that I was Miss Reed, I remembered her from when she was in 3rd grade, and that I had her brother in my student teaching class. I wasn’t sure how to handle the subject because her brother had passed away a few years ago and I didn’t want to upset her. After some small talk, I went with my gut and told her what her brother meant to me.
“I’m really sorry about what happened with your brother. He was such a great kid. Always had a warm, welcoming smile on his face. I was going through some old student teaching files (teachers keep EVERYTHING!) and actually found some of his work I had kept. And I’ll never forget when he was in middle school; he always made a point to come up to me to say hi or chat. Most kids don’t want to act like they know a teacher so it always made me feel special when he would seek me out.”
She thanked me, we laughed about his 3rd-grade chicken scratch handwriting, and she explained how school was hard for him.
Then she looked me in the eyes and said, “My brother always thought highly of you. He talked about you all the time at home. That speaks volumes because there were only a few teachers that he actually liked.”
As I fought back the tears I said, “Thank you, that means a lot.”
Fourteen years ago, I only had this student under my care for eight weeks.
Teachers are supposed to teach, and students are supposed to learn. In my career, I found the opposite. I learned more valuable life lessons from my students than I taught. Sometimes a seed can be planted long ago, and it might take years to reap the reward. Keep planting seeds. It only takes one.
“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9
I challenge you to think of a teacher(s) who has/have impacted your life and reach out to them this week. Let them know how much they mean to you or tell them a specific story that altered your life for the better. You both will feel rewarded.