21 Days of Gratitude Day 12: Former Students

Today was a decent day overall, but it got a bit brighter when I went to the high school to work the scoreboard for a basketball game.  Before the game started, a couple students from last year walked over to talk for a couple minutes.  It was just some pleasantries, but I’m always grateful for a chance to see how former students are doing in school and in their interests.  I was especially glad to see these students because they grew into leaders in my classroom and it seems like they’re carrying that confidence with them into their new surroundings.

When I was driving home after the game, I thought about other former students I’ve seen this year.  Since this year is my fifth at the middle school, it’s finally been a mix of freshman and upperclassmen who I end up crossing paths with at school events or around town.  Regardless of the circumstance, the conversations have been defined by a few notable characteristics:

  • The former students are happy to see me (even ones I wondered if they hated my guts when they were in my class).  Most are surprised by the shorter hair and bushier beard.
  • The conversations include questions about academics and interests.
  • I’m surprised I remember as much as I do about each student.
  • The students seem surprised at my memory, too.

I’m grateful for the chance to see former students unexpectedly.  The conversations are needed reminders that what I do makes a difference and that teaching is not something that’s solely academic.  Sometimes the struggle of each school year can be feeling like I’m building temporary relationships; however, it’s conversations like the one I had today that remind me that these relationships endure.


21 Days of Gratitude Day 9-11: Too Difficult to Express in Words.

I’m thankful for the moments where words fail.

I’m grateful for the people who’s mere memory causes my heart to well up with love, my eyes to well up with tears, and all adjectives and descriptions to seem inept.

When the words fail, I’m reminded of what really matters: the people in our lives (in flesh and in memory) and the wonderful capacity that each person has to express and receive love.  While words may help, I’m thankful for the ways that love requires no words at all.


21 Days of Gratitude Day 8: Silence

Sometimes I need silence to think.

Sometimes I need silence to listen.

Sometimes I need silence to just clear my mind entirely.

I am thankful what can happen and not happen in silence. I’m thankful for the calm that can wash over me in these moments, even when life seems so hectic and stressful. I’m grateful for what I learn about myself in the quiet moments.

21 Days of Gratitude Day 7: Flexibility

My computer froze this morning. At first I thought it was the typical wait 5 minutes and hold the power button to fix it kind of thing, but an hour later I was sending in a help message to the IT department for our district.

I quickly adjusted to doing everything old school today. I wrote examples on the whiteboard. I stated directions instead of using music cues.

The IT guy for our building showed up quickly. I’m thankful for his diligence. I found out from him that my computer was toast. Apparently, the hard drive was part of a bad batch. Fortunately, he told me he would replace it and have it back to me before the end of the day. He came back before noon and took a moment to tell me how to finish setting up the device.

One thing I’m always grateful for is when I have to switch around my plans like today, but the lesson still works. In the moment, I felt a little off-balance and that the day was a mess. In reality, my students probably noticed very little was different other than a slower pace than normal. I’m thankful I’ve gotten more flexible with making changes on the fly.

21 Days of Gratitude: Days 5 & 6

Days 5 and 6 get combined because it was a long two days.

Yesterday, I spent the morning at Institute workshops.  I usually find myself nodding off at Institute sessions, but I had a good time!  I spent one session revisiting Meyers-Briggs using the idea of personality colors.  My big take-away from the session is paying attention to the personalities of my students and coworkers in order to figure out what encouragement is best for them.  At the other session, I got to learn about the fascinating history behind improv games (surprisingly, a lot of them started as way for English Language Learners to get practice communicating) and got a chance to see how a coworker uses them in his classes to build a caring atmosphere and student confidence.  I’m grateful for the people who presented being well-prepared (no reading from PowerPoints!) and that my district switched to a workshop format where teachers get choices.

Yesterday evening and today, my school had parent-teacher conferences.  I was surprised at how many appointments were filled this year.  I always have a little nervousness before conferences, but (like always) it quickly dissolved as soon as I got into the first few conversations.  Every year seems to have a recurring topic in my conversations.  This year, responsibility was the word that kept appearing.  Many times, it was me expressing to parents that I appreciated the responsibility I observed in their children.  Sometimes, it was parents bringing up the topic themselves and acknowledging their children have a ways to go in their journey.  A few times, responsibility was the word that characterized the needed changes to make the next quarter better.

I’m thankful for the conversations I had with parents.  Conferences are a much needed reminder that parents care deeply, try to set limits, and encourage their children to grow in character.  I’m thankful for the parents who are trying to find the delicate balance of fostering their children’s independence, while providing the support and guidance every adolescent needs as they navigate school, activities, and relationships.  While email and phone calls are ubiquitous, there’s something more personal and effective when talking with a person face-to-face.  With so many forms of communication that can feel rushed or a task to be done, I’m thankful for the chance to slow down and dialogue with parents.

21 Days of Gratitude Day 4: Small Moments of Joy.

Today, I’m thankful for small moments of joy:

  • When a student has the “lightbulb moment.”
  • When a conversation with a colleague during a passing period makes me laugh.
  • A hot cup of coffee on a cold, rainy morning.
  • Playing around on a guitar and before you know it, an hour has passed.
  • Homemade food of any kind.
  • That moment when every student is intently focused on a task and a charged silence fills the room.
  • When the barista at the Starbucks near school recognizes me, asks me if I’m getting my usual coffee, and fills up the cup before I even get to the front of the line.
  • Reading a student response to a test question and thinking, “YES!”
  • Overhearing a good explanation or question from one student to another.
  • Accidentally writing 16nd instead of 16th, telling students, “It’s been a long day,” and several responding with, “Yup.”
  • Hearing about the trick or treating fun coworkers had with their little kids.
  • When the FACS teacher brings banana cake into the teacher’s lounge for everybody to savor.
  • The smell of rain.
  • Scratching off items on a to-do list.
  • When a song comes on the radio that perfectly fits your current mood.
  • Seeing former students when I’m out and about.  It’s even better when they’re genuinely happy to see me and want to fill me in on what’s new and exciting in their lives.
  • When the setting full moon is front of you as the sun begins to rise behind you.
  • The chirp of birds in the morning.
  • Realizing you used 30 stickers from a pack because a lot of students rocked the last quiz.
  • Phone calls with friends and family.

There’s countless others.  I’m getting better with stopping to say thank you when these moments happen, but it’s still something I easily forget when a day is particularly challenging or busy.

21 Days of Gratitude Day 3: Sabbath

I’m thankful for Sabbath.

I know it sounds old-fashioned and a bit antiquated, but I just mean a day of resting from work each week.  That day might involve hobbies, friends, exploring the city, and/or church, but it contains no work for school.  No grading, no planning, no work email, no searching for resources, and even trying to avoid thinking about school.  I love it.  It’s probably because it’s something I never practiced for most of my adolescent years, college, and at the start of my teaching career.

I starting working when I was 15 and continued at that job (and adding others) throughout college.  With the rare exception of holidays, summer, or vacations, I worked every Saturday and Sunday from my sophomore year of high school until the weekend before I began my first year teaching.  Between school and jobs, I never felt like I had a day off from everything.

During my first year of teaching, I continued my pattern of constant work.  I spent at least 6-12 hours each weekend planning lessons, activities, grading, or keeping a detailed journal of the each day of teaching.  This pattern continued into my second year of teaching.  At the time, I justified my restlessness by thinking it would make a difference or that I was freeing up time for my future self.  Somehow, my future self just kept working to free up time for my future future self.  In reality, I was really just making myself more neurotic, sleep-deprived, socially inept, and frustrated with my shortcomings a teacher.

My mind finally changed after my third year of teaching.  I was exhausted all the time, I felt like my social circle had dwindled, and that my mind was in constant fear of what failure might happen the next school year.  I spent that summer searching for answers to my internal conflicts and eventually found some timeless advice from Mr. Rogers that was key.  Besides the advice of everybody’s favorite neighbor, something that really helped me in deciding how to make the next school year different was a message about the 10 Commandments.  My mom called me after hearing this sermon and told me, “I immediately thought of you.”  Curious, I listened to the message and I was immediately humbled.

When I listened to the sermon and thought about my first few years teaching, I realized there were countless instances where my failure to set aside work once per week led to negative experiences later.  My attitude, my interactions with others, my quality of work, amount of procrastination at school, and my creativity all suffered because I was convinced more work was better.  In reality, I could have been healthy and happier if I had committed to being productive throughout the week and giving myself permission to leave less work at school Friday afternoon.  I would have had the time to do the activities that rejuvenate my energy if I had committed to taking a Sabbath each week.

Determined to have a better school year, I committed to doing absolutely nothing school related at least one day each weekend.  Without fail, my weekends began to be more rejuvenating as I made time for hobbies and people.  My plan time on school days felt more productive, since I planned on not bringing home a “guilt bag” each Friday.  I felt like my temperament was most consistent at school and that I was more patient with students, since I hadn’t been ruminating on past misbehavior each weekend.  I spent more time with family and friends.  The tone and substance of my conversations became more positive.  I visited more places and felt like I had a life outside of the school day.

It’s not a silver bullet, but keeping a Sabbath definitely helps me feel healthier physically and mentally.  Even with recently starting a graduate program, I know setting aside a day for rest still needs to be a priority if I am going to put forth my best effort in that pursuit and in my teaching.  If you’re skeptical, I encourage you to try it yourself for a month and see the difference it can make for you.

I’m thankful for the Sabbath for what it is, but I am also thankful for it because I’ve been able to fix my priorities on what really matters (people, building memories, and enjoying the goodness of life).  I hope that even in this busier season of life, I continue to keep these priorities by taking the time to rest.