Today I had one of those days that reminded me why I’m willing to put up with making mere ducats at a thankless job. Today I got thanked.
Before I went back to school this fall, I decided I wanted to do things a little differently. I changed up my lesson plans (a little), but more importantly, I came in with a super positive attitude. I decided I was going to give all the kids a real chance. I didn’t listen to what any of their previous teachers had to say about them. I gave them the clean slate speech, but more importantly, I meant it. As part of this positivity campaign, I also decided I was going to start emailing parents about failing grades the second week of school. That way I wouldn’t have to wait for them to start leaving messages for me. I also took great pains to emphasize that the reason I was emailing them was because I really wanted their kid to succeed and get “back on the right track.”
Amazingly, I think it worked.
For the first time in my teaching career (I think), at midterm I only had three kids failing. One was because he didn’t turn a paper in, one turned in a paper from last year (even though he’d had me last year when he failed the first time around) and one had a string of missing homework, but was working hard to make it better. I don’t know if I just got a great crop of kids or my new positive responsibility kick is working, but I don’t care. This teaching thing has been relatively peaceful so far.
All this, while motivating and somewhat rewarding is not the thanks I’m talking about. See, one of my girls got off to a really bad start. She was a transfer at the end of last year and she made it clear she did not want to be here. She told me flat out that she didn’t like school in general, especially our school and especially not English class. I sighed. Then I sent home an email to her mom about her failing grade. Through a series of emails that resulted in her getting quite the earful at home and a grounding to boot, she started trying to bring her grade up. Each time she did something good, I praised her. I also sent an email home to her mom telling her how proud I was. She started joking with me in class. She’d refer to the emails and ask me with a smile if I told her mom about whatever her latest accomplishement was. She said it in that way teens have of acting annoyed but being secretly glad about it. I’m happy to say that her grade has been steadily going up but by midterms it was still a D. A high D, but a D.
Still, I emailed her mom about all of her progress and how I knew she was going to keep improving. Then, out of the blue, in the middle of the computer lab while the whole class listened, she said, “Mrs. Schiller, you’re my favorite teacher.” I teased her by asking what she wanted. Her reply? “Nothing, you really are. I’ve never liked an English teacher before, but you’re great.” Wow. I was taken aback. I mean she’s a nice kid and I like having her in class, but I never thought she’d say something like that.
I graded her project first because I knew how hard she worked on it. It was fantastic. I was so happy to put 100% in the grade book, especially when I saw it brought her grade up to a mid C. I jumped online and started typing. Her mother sent me the nicest email back. She told me her daughter was sincere in her like for me. She said she’d never connected with any teacher, let alone an English teacher, because she never felt she was smart enough. She raved about how I made her daughter feel smart and valued. She then asked if I taught other classes her daughter could take. If not, she wanted to know if I might help her daughter through her next two years of high school. At the end she thanked me for caring so much.
It’s wierd to be so happy about something so small as someone telling me they like me or saying thank you. Sometimes in all the administrative frustration and grading I get sidetracked and forget that I can really make a difference in someone’s life. I may not always turn them in to model students, but maybe I help them believe in themselves just a little more. Maybe I give them a boost of confidence. Maybe I show them someone cares. Maybe I encourage them just a little.
Maybe I’ll stick with this teaching gig a little longer.