The first day of school is less than a week away and I’m already freaking out (to use the vernacular of the kids).
- What if I don’t say or do the right things on the first day and the kids mutiny two weeks or two months from now?
- What if I forget to introduce a concept now, we have to backtrack, and the kids fail their high stakes test in April?
- What if I am so busy I overlook a child during one hectic moment of one day, and she never achieves her full potential?
Perhaps I’m getting a little dramatic.
These thoughts were flying around in the back of my mind when I saw What Students Remember Most About Teachers by Lori Gard at Pursuit of a Joyful Life on Facebook. In her article, Lori talks about seeing a new teacher in the lunch room:
And as I looked at you there wearing all that worry under all that strain, I said it’s about being there for your kids. Because at the end of the day, most students won’t remember what amazing lesson plans you’ve created. They won’t remember how organized your bulletin boards are. How straight and neat are the desk rows.
No, they’ll not remember that amazing decor you’ve designed.
But they will remember you.
I immediately started thinking back through my own student history. What do I remember about my teachers?
- My kindergarten teacher telling us the stories about the Letter People. I particularly remember S and K sharing their sounds with the sad C.
- I remember my first grade teacher scolding me the first (and last) time I talked in line in the hallway.
- I remember my second grade teacher taking maternity leave and being replaced by a very nice teacher.
- I remember my third grade teacher rewarding me for being one of the best behaved students in class. I got to drink a bottle of Coke at my desk! I also remember her telling me that she was so impressed by the poem I wrote, she took it to the sixth grade teachers, who were even more impressed. (I was not impressed.)
- I remember my fourth grade teacher finding out she needed to have surgery on the bones in her neck and would need to wear a halo ring brace that screwed into her skull for several months. We had a substitute teacher until near the end of the year.
- In fifth grade, I had several teachers. My homeroom teacher had coffee breath. (I decided right there, if I ever became a teacher, I would not drink coffee!) My science teacher was, and still is, one of my favorites. She was very nice, very excited about her subject (She even brought tarantulas to school and let us pet them. I declined.)
- My sixth grade English teacher assigned us a poem to write for the annual PTA contest. I won out of the whole school! She submitted my entry to the district, but I did not win. She later told my mom that when she inquired about my poem, she was told that the judges thought I’d copied it. (But who else would have written about “What Sparks My Imagination?”…?)
- My seventh grade English teacher told me that I was a good writer, that she had told the eighth grade yearbook adviser about me, and that I should join the yearbook staff the next year. I was too shy to request the adviser approval needed to sign up for the class.
- The eighth grade yearbook adviser called me out of class the first day of school, along with my 7th grade English teacher, the principal and the registrar. They told me they wanted me to be on the yearbook staff. They said if I wanted to, the would go ahead and change my schedule right then. I figured if they were going to go to all that trouble…
- My 9th grade English teacher had pity on me when she assigned our class a group essay. My group wanted to explore the intricacies of Motley Crew walking through a forest — and they wanted me to write it. She delivered me from that horror to the Honors English class down the hall, where we studied (and enjoyed!) Romeo and Juliet. Whew! (What a selfless act this one, considering I was the only one in that class who tried to answer her seriously. Yes, I was a big geek. Someone reminded me last week that I still am. I need a t-shirt…)
- During my 10th grade year, my English teacher decided to call me out for writing a book in class. I was supposed to be reading “To Kill a Mockingbird.” I guess she didn’t believe that I’d really read the book in three days. After I thoroughly answered her Inquisition, and then aced the test, I think she believed me.
- During my 11th grade year, my journalism teacher/newspaper adviser hunted me down to the library and let me know under no uncertain terms that I was to be working on newspaper projects in her class, not hiding in a book. I am forever grateful that she insisted I do my work.
- During my 12th grade year, my psychology teacher told us to put our textbooks in the top right corner of our closets and leave them there until the end of the year, as he would be teaching us directly from his personal notes. This was deliciously subversive to us adolescent iconoclasts. He also sang in a band and printed t-shirts. For all I know, he taught us everything straight from the book, and we had to write it all down, but I never opened it, so how would I have known?
It seems that most of what I remember about my teachers is the impact that they had on me. Each of these teachers have boiled down in my memory to just one or a handful of moments out of an entire year (or in the case of my newspaper adviser, four years!), yet I still feel their impact on my life to this day. (Oh yeah, none of the things I remember are anything that a teacher would have done to prepare me for a test. Just saying…)
- What did they say about me and to me?
- What changes were they willing to make in my life?
- How did they steer me in a different direction?
Perhaps this is what we need to be focusing on: What can I do to make this student’s life better?
What do you remember?
How have you made a difference in a student’s life?
I’d love to read your stories.
I am a secondary English Language Arts teacher, a University of Oklahoma graduate student, and a NBPTS candidate. I am constantly seeking ways to amplify my students’ voices and choices.