I was a horrible teacher my first year. And maybe even my second year too. To all my 2007-2008 students; bless your hearts. I didn’t know what I was doing, how I should be doing it, or why whatever I was or was not doing even mattered. (Remember, I had a publication degree, not an education degree). But somewhere around year three, I found my rhythm. I figured out for myself that I couldn’t do what everyone else was doing. Their classroom management style was not my management style. Their instructional strategies were not my strategies. Their relationships with students was really not the way I formed relationships with my students. I’m also pretty sure that you could write a book using my ten-year career as an example of what not to do when in comes to public education, I mean I gave out my phone number to my yearbook staff and this was 2007, not trendy 2017.
But like I said, somewhere around 2009, something profound changed my teaching, how I interacted with my students, and my life. Her name was Katie and as a high school senior, she was pretty much doing life on her own. I’m not going to go into details about Katie’s life. That’s her business. But on December 4th, 2009 Katie took a risk and walked through my front door. With two bursting-at-the-seems suitcases and one Yamaha piano, she chose to make us her family. This kid, who never wanted to be touched, much less hugged, had just unknowingly joined the most hipster, over-sharing, all-in-each-other’s-business-but-we-do-it-with-love family.
With what was promised as a five month respite for Katie before moving off to college on her own the following June, turned into almost five years of this petite brunette as a permanent fixture in our family. At every function. With her own Christmas stocking. Hugs required.
At just twenty-five years old, Katie taught me the greatest lesson of my life. A lesson that regardless if you’re a teacher or not, is transformative and I would like to share this little golden nugget with you. Are you ready for it? It’s short, simple, and easy to remember (Yep, I’m quoting Captain Jack Sparrow again). But here it is.
Yep, that was it. No, seriously think about it. Roll that idea around in your brain. Find a scenario and apply it.
It’s not about you.
Recently a dear friend of mine said that one thing she really loved about me was how I make others “feel seen.” I can’t stop thinking about this. She was referencing my recent accomplishment at learning how to make tiramisu because one of my beloved seniors gave me a birthday baking challenge. I don’t consider rifling through Pinterest
Searching for the most time-test recipe, going out of my way. I don’t consider asking the stock boy at Publix to help me find Mascarpone, going out of my way. I don’t consider baking that cake the last week of school for a graduating senior, going out of my way. And in the same respect, I never considered opening my home to Katie, going out of my way either. Somewhere along the way God instilled in my heart that the best way for me to love others is to make it about them. That’s why I bake. That’s why I mail books. That’s why I send cards. That’s why I write the longest red letters to my graduating seniors. Because nothing that I have done is about me. It is always about Him.
Katie softened me. She gave both Jason and I a reason to not focus on ourselves. Maybe that is what parenting does. I don’t know. But what I do know is that lesson moved from my home to my classroom. It quickly quit being about my course content and state requirements and became about real individuals, real relationships. And to some of my colleagues, the relationships and the going out of my way for my students was not only weird but wrong. Reflecting over these past ten years, there is a lot I would change if given the opportunity for a mulligan, but not once instance of “going out of my way” would be erased.
I am going to deeply miss the relationships I have with my kids. They have literally become a part of my story and I in turn, hope to be a part of theirs. We still text, eat lunch, and play get-togethers. Our stories are deeply woven because our relationships have never been one sided.
Today as I left my classroom for the very last time, I saved this year’s yearbook for last. Over the last four days I have been packing up and toting home my accumulated things. Books, school supplies, student artwork that I could never part with. Even some artwork from a shy kid that would later become family.
Reading what my students wrote in my book, I know that I have served them well.
“I could talk to you about anything.”
“I don’t deserve the endless amount of time and effort you put into me.”
“Thank you for being the most supporting, encouraging, and understanding figure in my life.”
“You handled us with grace and provided us with joy.”
“I literally do not know what I would do without you. You have been my safe haven, my rock, and my friend.”
“You never failed to show me kindness.”
“You are more of a mom than a faculty member.”
“You have always been real with me, and with you, I know you mean what you say.”
I am so thankful to God that he dropped this job in my lap. I am so thankful for every year my contract was renewed, especially those early years when I was oh-so-clueless. I am so thankful for every colleague who walked beside me, guided me when I was lost, forgave me when I was dumb. And of course, I could not imagine my life without my kids, my Katie or the countless others. Thank you all for teaching this teacher, it’s not about me.
And because once a teacher, always a teacher, I couldn’t leave you with a quote from a book that I taught to all ninth grade lit classes. To this day, I still have grown adult students who tell me how much this book means to them.
Mitch Albom so eloquently captures his favorite teacher, Morrie Schwartz, at the end of this life, still teaching the most profound lessons to all those who come to visit. Mitch writes this . . .
Have you ever really had a teacher? One who saw you as a raw but precious thing, a jewel that, with wisdom, could be polished to a proud shine? If you are lucky enough to find your way to such teachers, you will always find your way back.
To all my students, my kids, my now dear friends, this is not the end. It never will be.
The Big Bang Theory, Series 03 Episode 23 – The Lunar Excitation