Last night was our second parent night. I feel honored when families take the time to come see me. Anyone drives a couple of towns to pay respects to a child’s education is someone for whom I’m very grateful. Many can’t come–parents who work or care for others, or have to put little, little children to bed. I try not to bring Declan to night events. It’s tempting disaster taking him out that late in the evening–I appreciate brave parents who bring little children even more. It’s a real effort.
It’s why schools have to make every event for families productive–not just five minutes of face time that could better be served with Face Time, but events that build the community and climate of the school. At our school, we’re starting to get more and more of these types of events–things that generate buzz and bring everyone together. Schools that do this well report amazing things. I don’t know what the stats are in terms of test scores and such but the climate and happiness factor increase exponentially–the weight is taken off the parent, the school, and the student–it’s shared equally. A three-legged stool never falls. A pogo stick does.
“Before I go,” said one mom, “I just wanted to take the time to thank you. Elementary teachers receive a lot of appreciation. High school teachers do not. I really appreciate what you do.” She handed me a gift card for coffee with a fancy sticky note that expressed her sincere appreciation. I was so touched–she was right. This appreciation will warm my soul long after the duration of the coffee. Gifts are not part of the high school culture, so much so, I nearly ruined my son’s gift giving experience by not preparing to give gifts in his elementary school.
In high schools, we don’t always take the time to properly express appreciation. I have one colleague who makes it part of an exercise for students to write thank you cards to any teacher they want. I get some of these cards, and feel like I’m winning the lottery. We should make appreciation a measured data point on standardized tests. If appreciation was a test score, I bet we would put it right the curricula. Truth is, we could all use a bit more practice on this one. I think of the times I’ve failed to appreciate my family, colleagues, friends, or even the hard work I do myself. If it were measured on my evaluation, I’d learn to get it right.
One day, I read this James Altucher post, where he discusses how he saved the global economy with chocolate. I’ll admit, that’s a tall order. I had doubts. Turns out, he stood outside the stock market exchange giving out chocolate during the market crash. There was a decided lack of morale during that period where everyone wondered if financial life as they knew it would end–I remember it well, because I was wondering the same thing, just far away, so I he didn’t give me a chocolate bar.
I decided I’d steal the idea with very little attribution. I distributed Hershey bars on the Ides of March–the day a person is most likely to be stabbed in the back by someone–life, a good friend, The Man. Could chocolate raise morale in education–the field with the highest burnout rate in the nation? It did. I saw people I didn’t even know I still worked with. I reconnected. We smiled. I got hugs. Turns out it’s not about chocolate or coffee–I’d have felt the same glow in my soul if that mom said what she said and handed me a post it note alone. Or even nothing. It’s about appreciation. Gratitude. Taking the time to recognize the work, life, humanness of the person on the other side of the conversation rather than rushing through the paces in an overloaded day so we can go home, get some sleep, and rush through tomorrow.
It’s not easy. But it needs to be said once in a while. I really appreciate the parents who entrust me with their kids–even if it’s just because we all need a break from our own. I appreciate the chance to make a difference in a single life, or in education in general. I appreciate that somehow, somewhere in the universe, there’s someone doing something great in life, and that I got a chance to be a part of it. And I appreciate those who did it for me.
Most of all, I appreciate my family and friends who put up with this, because a teacher’s work, no matter what the pundits say, is never done.