What My Students Taught Me in 1 Short Week

As I go into a new work week, I am reminding myself of some things I learned last week.

In a 5 day workweek, I learned that I need to stop being so sad and reaching the edge of depression over the fact that I spend my days with other people’s kids while I miss out on so very much of my own kids’ lives. I learned that I need to stop whining to others and to God about how much I want to be home so I can be involved with my kids’ day and so I can take care of my home the way I feel I should. I learned that I need to not whine about how I’m so exhausted by the end of the day that I can barely help my kids with their own homework. I learned that I am being incredibly selfish every time I even think about these things – every time I allow myself to feel guilty for telling my babies I can’t be there for them.

It only took 5 days for me to remember there are kids who don’t go home to parents. There are kids who leave straight from school to work (or from work to school) because they are already forced to support themselves. Some are already supporting a family they started earlier than they intended while some are working to support their parents. I was reminded that my kids have a mom and 2 dads (or 2 moms and a dad for my step-sons) who love them and help them with homework and who cook (or purchase) meals for them to ensure they have food and even snacks for every meal every day while some of my students go without. I was reminded that my kids have not 1 or 2 but THREE parents who teach them about life and God’s love, protection, salvation, and forgiveness. They go to a school where they are loved on by their teachers and learn about God in everything they do. I was reminded of how my kids have parents who protect their eyes and ears from things that rob them of their innocence and parents who want to know where they are and who they’re with at all times although we are made to feel by our kids and outsiders as if we’re horrible for being too involved and overprotective . . . all while I beat myself up at least 20 hours of the day for not being able to be involved enough. I was reminded this week that there are kids who yearn for parents to be even somewhat involved in their lives because they would at least know they’re loved. I was reminded I have students who don’t even see their parents because they live hours away from them.

I was reminded that the enemy has such a hold on people that they are willing to diminish themselves just to be able to say they have a friend or a significant other. My kids don’t get to have me at all times, but they are constantly reminded of their worth, while I have students who have never once been told they are valuable. In fact, some are consistently told of how worthless they are.

I was reminded that while we constantly worry that we’re about to have a driver in the family, there are kids who have to work hard to pay for their own broken down cars and work on them for a couple of years to get them running just so they have something to drive.

And while we spend many nights trying to figure out how we will be able to help pay for our kids to go to college, for the first time in all my years of teaching, I learned there are kids who are living in fear and hate themselves for decisions they’ve made to do something out of character and illegal in order to make money so they can one day go to college.

This week, I was reminded that I take for granted how easily we go to God whether we want to talk to him just because or whether we’re in need or  someone else is hurting or when we are excited. I was reminded that there are so many people who have no idea who he even is. I was reminded that I was called to do what I do because there is a need for someone to love on these kids and not necessarily tell them about God’s love for them but to show them.

My heart breaks for them.

My kids get that every day whether I’m with them or not. God made sure of that. I think he did that so I would be free to be what my students need.

I was reminded that I’ve missed many opportunities to do that this year and that I need to stop focusing so much on myself and take a look around me at the tears falling from the eyes of my students who are trying to do school work while real life is breaking them. I was reminded that God called me to do what I do. To go to him with discontent or whine about my situation means I’m completely missing my purpose.

This week I learned that God has placed me exactly where he wants me to be, and he has given me the opportunity to do exactly what I’ve prayed almost daily to do – to impact lives, encourage others, build confidence and help people realize their identity in Christ. I learned that my pleas for it to change have been completely in vain. I learned that all this time I have been  praying against my own prayers to be used by God in this exact way.

I’ve learned so much in just 5 short days. My students don’t realize just how much they teach me when they walk into my classroom.

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.


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