I’m going to start with my absolute least favorite way that students start paragraphs or essays for me…with a question.
Do you have a teacher box?
Usually I push my students to start with a surprising detail, and interesting anecdote, a relevant quote, or something that makes the reader think. I’m not a fan of starting with a question because once the reader answers it, they have their opinion made up already. Anyways, I digress.
I ask if you have a teacher box because last week reminded me of how critically important they are to the well-being of a teacher, or anyone who deals with people on a daily basis.
I started my teacher box back in college when I was coaching club volleyball teams each spring. At the end of my first season with this club, the team pitched in and gave me a gift card to a sporting goods store and a few handwritten notes. On a personal level, I had suffered some hardships, and I was so incredibly encouraged by those notes. I kept the box that my item from the sporting goods store was packaged in and saved those cards in that box.
As I received cards for my college graduation, I placed them in my box. Other notes and cards from teams I coached and students I worked with were placed in my box, too.
But when I first began my box, I didn’t really understand the long-term importance of keeping these notes and cards. They felt nice to receive at the time and were definitely an encouragement, but I didn’t think of them much after I stuffed them in my orange shoebox.
Last week was one of those weeks where I felt like I couldn’t win and every day was a Monday. I know that coming back after Thanksgiving break is always a challenge, but it seemed like this particular week I gained an endorsement in professional cat herding. Actually, it seemed like I failed my course on professional cat herding if I’m completely honest.
When I began my second year of teaching in August, I was feeling pretty good about myself after surviving, and dare I say, conquering, my first year of teaching. Without realizing I had done this, I just assumed that since I did it once, I could do it again. However, I began to quickly discover how hard teaching is, not just how hard being a first year teacher is.
Anyways, by this point, if this was one of my student’s essay, I would leave a comment asking how those italic parts are relevant to the main topic of the teacher box. And as a reader, you are probably wondering the same thing.
So let me connect the dots.
By the Friday of my failed cat herding course, I wanted to go home, hide under a blanket with my cat, and hibernate until springtime. Unfortunately it was only 10 o’clock in the morning, so that was out of the question. But then, I remembered…
my teacher box.
I have a few notes that haven’t made their way home to my official orange shoebox yet, so during my lunch break I opened my desk drawer and slowly read through each note while tears filled my eyes as I read the messages. Those notes gave me just enough momentum to get through the rest of the day.
The teacher box isn’t about feeding the ego or constantly reflecting on how great we are.
Because here’s the deal: teachers are great. But sometimes, more than maybe we would like to admit, we forget that. You get weighed down by grading and by student behavior and by lesson plans and by differentiation and by meetings and by dirty dishes and by unfolded laundry and by extra duties and by unread email and by all the other things that are running through your teacher brain that is still spinning its wheels at midnight…
And sometimes, it takes that small reminder from the ones who matter the most and who we are ultimately in it for–our students. The end game of teaching is not about us. Teaching isn’t about me or making myself feel good.
Maybe it’s just me, but when I’ve had an especially difficult week, I’ve found that my priorities are all backwards and my focus is skewed. But my teacher box is my segue back into reality. What we do as teachers matter. It matters every day. And that is the beauty and the difficulty of teaching.
But those little reminders of yes, you are doing a good job, yes you are making a difference, and yes, it is hard work and it’s okay for it to be hard, that’s the point of the teacher box.