A Day of Tears

Day of Tears

Feb. 11, 2015

Today has been incredibly emotional and full of tears for me.  I’ve had tears from pride all the way to tears from my heart breaking, and I’m closing out this day feeling emotionally drained to say the least.

And the Winner Is . . .

Let me preface by saying the fact that I was nominated for the LifeChanger of the Year award is enough to make my lifetime.  It feels great to be appreciated, and even better to be appreciated by someone who has actually sat in my classroom as a student, and yes I would absolutely love to be the winner of this award, but today I realized something important.

Do you see that picture above?  I received that card this morning before one of my very special students was going to walk the hall in her cap and gown because she completed her final course and is our campus’ newest graduate.  Yes, we still have a graduation ceremony at the end of the year like everyone else, but a bonus of being on a small campus is that we can do things other schools can’t.  The students and staff on our campus become somewhat of a second family, and this tradition is just something sentimental we do to acknowledge the hard work our students have done and to share in celebrating with them.  We all stand in the hallway and cheer them on as they walk down to a song they’ve chosen to play, and our principal says a few words about them at the end.  It’s such a meaningful thing for all of us.

Before our newest graduate walked down the hall, I noticed this card placed on my desk, and I read it. What I realized at that moment was that THIS . . . this right here is my award.  Whether I am recognized by the National Life Group as this year’s LifeChanger of the Year or not, I have been given this award by many students over the years, and this picture is a picture of one of my trophies.

I read it, and I cried.

I walked next door to where this student was preparing to walk.

I hugged her, and I cried.

There are no words to express the pride I felt for this young lady who has been through so much, a young lady who even a year ago struggled to imagine herself actually graduating, a young lady who has grown so greatly over the past year and who I was blessed to see the transformation she went through, and a young lady who has touched my heart and probably doesn’t even realize she’s had just as great of an impact on me as I have her.

After she walked and students went back to their classrooms, I watched as her friends and family gathered around her to take pictures.  I watched how happy she was, and I watched the plethora of teachers (even teachers from a campus across the street) come by just to see her special moment.  This girl doesn’t realize how amazing she really is and how everyone she comes in contact with is impacted by her.

I watched, and I cried.

This time they were bittersweet tears because I’m so incredibly proud of her, but the realization hit that her sweet presence will no longer be in my classroom as my student.  She is moving on to far better things, and she is going to change lives . . . but I’m sure going to miss her.

So, today I was awarded with the most recent award for being a Life Changer, and I’m completely humbled.

But that wasn’t the end of my tears.  We were still only in the first few hours of the school day.

Heartbroken

I have another student.  I won’t lie.  I was nervous to have this student in my class because I didn’t know if I could be the teacher he needs.  I still don’t know if I can be, but I’ve become thankful he was placed with me.

This student has Tourette’s, and for those of you who think you know what that means because you’ve watched a movie where it is presented almost as a joke, then you have no idea what it is.  I didn’t completely know, but I’m learning.  He is teaching me.

This boy has one of the sweetest hearts I’ve seen, and he wants so badly to reach out to people and help them in whatever way he can.  But often he gets frustrated at the things he can’t control within himself.

This afternoon I heard something from where he was working, and it wasn’t a sound I typically hear from him, so I looked over and noticed tears falling down his cheek.  I went over to check on him, and we ended up moving to the hallway so he could talk.

He talked, and he cried.

I still didn’t know what was going on, but these weren’t small tears, so I knew it was something real.

As I listened to the boy’s words as he said he watches the other students and sees how they can sit still in a chair and how they can focus on their work, and it’s not fair that he can’t, and he just doesn’t understand why he’s like this . . . Do you understand how difficult it was for me to keep my composure while my heart was breaking to pieces for this kid all while knowing there’s nothing I can do to help him, and there’s no way I can ever find the right words to say to him?

I couldn’t keep them in for much longer.

I listened, and I cried.

Fortunately, another teacher came by right as the tears made their way to the surface, and I was able to push them back in.

Nothing for Granted

Almost daily I encounter people who remind me to never take things for granted.  To the teacher who is exhausted and looking forward to the next holiday – only to find out the holiday belongs to the students while you have a professional development day – I say to you, “Do not take the time in your classroom for granted.”  Your students need you.

To anybody reading, I say, “Do not take any part of your life for granted.”  You have no idea who needs you.

I know this post is long, and I know it kind of went from one topic to something completely different, but this was my day.  This is what it’s like most of my days.  This is why I teach.

And if you read one of me previous posts, Why Do I Teach?, you might now be able to see and better understand my final question, “What if today I decided I was too tired to come to work and stayed in bed instead?”

From Feb 6, 2015  Why Do I Teach? 

You might also enjoy Confessions of a High School Spanish Teacher from April 12, 2012

Why Do I Teach?

lifechanger pic

Newspaper Article from The Keller Citizen. Picture and article by Sandra Engelland.

 

A Letter to Myself

A few weeks ago, our principal gave us an envelope and a single sheet of KISD letterhead paper and asked us to write a letter to ourselves telling why we teach, and we were to return them to him to be used for something later.  For me, this wasn’t just something to scribble down and throw in his box, so it took me a while — and a few extra pages!  No, I didn’t take longer because I couldn’t figure out what to say, and I didn’t take longer because I had to think up the perfect wording.  I took longer because how can I sum up on one sheet of paper my reason for getting out of bed every morning to spend the majority of my day with other people’s children while I am missing out on a lot of my own children’s events and activities on just one sheet of paper provided by my principal?  For those who know me personally, they know I’m the mom who doesn’t want to miss a moment with my kids, so it has to be something pretty important for me to choose to do that every day . . . and it absolutely is.

I want to share my letter because I do get the question often, “Why would you want to teach?”  It usually comes with an awful grimace as if teaching is a horrible thing.  The even bigger look of disgust comes when I say I teach high school.  People wonder how I can spend my days teaching teenagers, and all I can think is How could I not?

Why Do I Teach?

I often think about why I am a teacher.  It’s funny because the reason has evolved over time.  I remember the moment I realized I wanted to teach.  I was hired by Stephen F. Austin State University as a supplemental instructor for one of the college algebra professors.  I had to attend her classes, and I had a group of 15-20 students who I met with twice a week to tutor over her lesson from the day.  I remember going over a difficult concept and seeing the “light bulb” turn on when they finally understood it.  It was magical to me, and I knew I wanted to make that happen again.

Shortly after that moment, I decided I wanted to teach so I could make that happen for many people.  That light bulb moment is what motivated me to try to become the best teacher I could be.  When someone struggled, I did everything I could to come up with a more interesting and creative way to help them make a connection, and I celebrated with them when it finally made sense to them.  I was as excited as they were!

Over the years, though, things have changed.  My reason for getting up and going to work has changed.  Maybe it was that I had become a mom.  Maybe it was that I had grown up and matured some.  Maybe it had something to do with all the “problem kids” I had seen discarded over the years, not just by their peers but by family and even other teachers.  I’ll probably never know the cause, but my WHY has certainly changed.

Now, I come to work because I love these kids, and I know for some, I’m the only face they see that shows them they are loved and valued and that their lives mean something.  I come to work now, not because I have to teach and want to see that connection being made when they discover how to do something.  Don’t get me wrong.  I still love seeing that light bulb, but now . . . well, now I come to work to make a difference in someone’s life.

I am motivated to get up in the morning and walk through my classroom door because today may be a bad one for the girl who gravitates closer to my desk each day just so she can talk to me about something serious that has been happening in her life.  Today, the boy who doesn’t talk to anyone may decide to write in his journal about something that’s on his mind, good or bad, and he just needs another person to be there for him while he “talks” in his own way.  Today, someone will need an added boost of confidence in his or herself.  Today, someone will need to be reminded of how valuable they are and that they were created with a purpose that only they can fulfill . . .

. . . What if today I decided I was too tired to come to work and stayed in bed instead?
Misty Gatlin
January 27, 2015

Confessions of a High School Spanish Teacher

This topic has been on my mind for a while lately, but I’ve wondered if my readers would be the least bit interested.  I mean, the majority of you are in your teens and twenties, so why would you want to know what happens in the mind of your teacher?  Then, I heard God reminding me that his perspective is bigger than mine.

I began teaching in 2002 and have taught 8th-12th graders.  People look at me with pity when I tell them I teach teens.  It’s funny because that’s the same way I look at elementary teachers.  I love what I do, and I love the ages I get to work with everyday.

Confession #1

I enjoy being known as the hard teacher.  Yes I said it.  I know I have past students who will read this and know exactly what I’m talking about.  That first day of school when we go over my expectations and repeat a million times Permítame ir al baño, I see the fear in my students’ eyes, and I continue on.  I look past all of the versions of that question (my favorite and most common is Pear-mee-tah-may  ira albino).  I smile every time I think of a student saying it that way because, believe it or not, I understand.  I was there once.  I was scared, and I never wanted to speak out loud.

It’s not that I want my students to think I’m mean, and it’s definitely not the fear in their eyes that drive me to do what I do.  It’s because every first day of school I see that fear in so many of their eyes, and I know what’s about to happen to them in the upcoming months.  I know that they are going to be successful in my class, and their confidence is going to be boosted, which will seep into their outside lives even if just a little.  I know that I will get to be the person who sees their eyes light up when they finally get a concept they’ve been working on for what seems like forever to them.  That’s one of the most exciting moments for me as a teacher!

I enjoy being known as the hard teacher because, even though I’ve had administrators tell me my expectations are too high, I know that my students can and will rise to meet those high expectations.  It only seems hard to them at first because we’ve become a world where expectations are lowered and concepts are “dumbed down” because someone higher up doesn’t believe students are capable of working with the intelligence God gave them.  I think the problem really is that those in control don’t want to work harder to get every student to a successful place.  It is hard, and it is time consuming.  I’ve had moments where I wanted to just pass everybody so I didn’t have to stay and tutor or grade more thoroughly, but how does that benefit the student?  What’s the purpose of my job if that’s what I do?

I enjoy being known as the hard teacher because that means I’m actually challenging my students, and I can assure you that when my students enter their next Spanish class, they are grateful to me.  I know this because I’m told every year.

All students – all people in general – need to know someone believes in them.  They need to know they are capable.  At the same time, they don’t need pressure of making all As because everyone has a subject in school that just doesn’t click with them.  Instead, students need high expectations set and someone with a watchful eye that sees they are working as hard as they can who also showers them with praise for all of their hard work.  As a teacher, I have the ability to make a C feel like an A.  If my student worked to the best of her ability to average a C in my class, then she absolutely met my high expectations.  She doesn’t need a 100 in my class to prove that she did what I expected.

By the way—the word “can’t” is not allowed in my class.  All of my students absolutely can be successful.  They all reach it at different times, but they can and will be successful as long as they put forth effort.

Confession #2

I love my students.  If you know me, or if you’ve sat in my classroom at some point in your life, you know this is absolutely true.   While I love all of my students, each year a select few find their way into the depths of my heart.  They’re usually the ones other teachers gave up on a long time ago – the troublemakers, but somehow I find a connection with them.  God has blessed me with the privilege of seeing lives change before my very eyes.  It makes me wonder how anyone can question if God is real because of the unexplainably drastic transitions I’ve seen.

One year, I had a boy who I still hear from on occasion (7 years later).  He was “the troublemaker,” and that’s with a capital T.  I knew he was going to be a handful when I had to get on to him the first day of school—actually I had to get on to him before his body was even fully in the room!  I started hearing other teachers complain about his behavior and attitude.  He had detention with me one day, and he happened to be the only one in there, so we talked during his detention time.  What did we talk about?  Manicotti.  Yes, that’s the only thing I remember of the conversation.  I don’t know why we talked about it, but I remember telling him that my husband likes when I make it.  Something about me saying that made me real to him.  I was a teacher talking to him like an equal.  His eyes were opened, and for the first time he saw me as a person and not simply his teacher.  That was the day he changed.

He helped with after school activities, he changed his attitude in my class, he attended school every day, and one day he came to me crying about something that happened in football, and he wanted to quit.  We had a lengthy conversation about life, and how we will always run into a boss or authority figure who, for no reason, will be downright mean to us.  We talked about how to push through those times and not allow them to force us out of the things we love doing.  He chose not to quit football and continued to play on into high school.  He wrote me a note thanking me for that talk and for all the other things throughout the year that had meant so much to him (bottom right).

I live for these times.  I live for these notes, and I tend to get them every year.  What’s cool is that I don’t even do anything special.  I’ve just treated these students as anyone else.  There is no such thing as a “bad kid,” and I don’t allow myself to take in stories from their previous teachers.  They come into my class with me being fully aware of their potential and knowing they are all great kids.

I’m no better than they are.  Yes, I’m their authority, and they show me respect, but I never have to demand it from them.  I never have to ask for a letter of apology when they do mess up.  They just feel the need to write one or verbally apologize (even if what they did had nothing to do with me).  I keep every one of those notes.  I read them often, and I remember those students that touched my heart permanently.

I’ve been told before by my supervisors that I’m not compassionate.  I’ve also been told that I care more about other things than I do my students, and boy have those words cut like a knife.  I’ve found myself growing each time I hear words like this being used to describe me.  I’ve been defensive, confrontational, hurt deeply, and . . . well I don’t know what you would call what I’ve grown into.  If a colleague or administrator were to describe me in this light now, I would simply brush it off.  I know it’s not true, and most importantly, my students could never be convinced of any truth in these words because they know better.  They know I am incredibly compassionate and love them dearly.

Confession #3

I pray for my students.  It used to be that I got to school early (before becoming a mom), and I walked down the aisles and prayed over every desk naming each student who sat in that desk by name.  I prayed for peace in my classroom and respect and safety.  I prayed many things over each student every day, and they never knew.

I became a mom, and making it to school on time was (is) difficult enough, so I stopped going early.  Instead, I prayed on the way to school.  I prayed over every student calling them out by name while I was driving down the road.

Now, I fill my journal with prayers for students God lays on my heart.  I pray for them at random times.  Sometimes it’s during class, sometimes at home, sometimes in the middle of church. . . I pray for them, and I cry for them.

Just a month ago I found myself crying while talking to my husband about a student who my heart has been desperately trying to reach.  I’ve never cried to this extent for a student, but I couldn’t control the tears.

I know God hears my prayers.  Sometimes it’s hard for me understand why certain things are happening, but I know his perspective is far greater than mine.  I know he placed me here, and I know he has placed specific students in my class.  For what reason, I may never know.  I don’t question it.  I just go and be here for them hopefully as much as they need me to be.

To the Students

I hope this gives you a little insight, and I pray you think about your teachers’ intentions before completely shutting them out.  No, not all teachers are the same, but you never know why they do what they do.  Also remember that just like you have things going on in your life that can affect your work and behavior at school, you never know what’s going on in the life of your teacher.  It may sometimes be difficult for her to pull herself together and get to school to teach you and help you with problems all while appearing that everything is right in her life.

If you have a teacher who has made a difference somehow in your life, I encourage you to let him or her know.  More than any gift card, candy, or Christmas ornament, hearing from students that they have somehow touched their lives is one of the best gifts a teacher could ever get.  The gift cards and candy are long gone, but the letters I’ve received from my students in the past 10 years are all together in a folder where I can read them any time I want.