My school email can be a mixed bag. I'm not sure there's any other mode of communication that has such a pull on my emotions to both extremes. I've received countless parent "hate mails" over the years: accusing me of being everything from a terrible role model to a monster who ruins Santa Claus for small children (I teach 13-14-year-olds, and honestly never considered the Santa thing as something I had to worry about). But a random email from a student, former student, or colleague can also be the bright spot in a tough day. I save these in a "Happy Thoughts" folder (I have both a virtual and physical one to save notes from kids), but I rarely share them with others.
With Thanksgiving coming up, it's a good time to share some of the bright spots from my week. As a teacher, it's easy to lament when I feel under-appreciated (or downright attacked), but I'm guilty of keeping the good things to myself far too often. The fact is, a lot of truly amazing compliments, respect, and love are thrown my way every day by teenagers, and instead of tucking them away in a folder that only I will ever see, I need to make a habit of posting them here. I'll share five from this week that made a difference.
My last entry talked about the massive amounts of grading I tore through to get my response letters and grades back to students with as quick of a turnaround as possible. (For the record: 132 papers and letters in five days. Whew.) I'm not shy with my students about the amount of work I put in. (I'm not shy with them about anything.) I don't dwell on it, but I do tell them how many hours outside of school it takes me to get through their work, and how I hope they appreciate it. Yes, that's probably a guilt trip. No, I don't feel bad about it. Middle school-aged kids are at the height of self-centeredness, developmentally speaking. It's good for them to hear about the sacrifices other people make for them; it stops them from assuming that everyone is there to serve their needs immediately at any time.
Even though I wrote 132 letters this week, I only got a few "thank-you's." That's fine. In their minds, I'm doing my job, and the letters are part of that job. These emails from two of my seventh grade girls made it worth it. At least two of them appreciated the letters enough to say thank you in writing. Proof that I made a difference, right? Even if I only reach two kids for every year I teach, that will eventually be around 60 people in the world that I've had a lasting positive impact on. I can live with that.
This category of email is my favorite. An email from a former student, sent because some random part of his day reminded him of something he wrote for my class. The bonus on this one is that it's from a boy and it deals with writing poetry. Creating middle school boy poets is one of my teacher passions. It really doesn't matter to me if their poems are good by any standards other than their own. If they find the ability and desire to share the poetry in their souls, I'll encourage it. I've found that many boys struggle with expressing emotion in traditional prose writing, but poetry gives them freedom. This poem mattered to this student years later, and he still connects me with it. It's a short email, but of the best to receive.
Another short but sweet one, this time from my principal after coming in for a walk-through. I generally try to get him to stay in my room and participate in whatever we're doing, and I trapped him for a lesson on word choice. I wasn't doing anything different from my usual teaching style, but it's nice to have a quick email from him. Everyone loves being "caught" at their best once in a while.
Since I handed papers back to 7th graders on Monday, we spent the rest of the week using mini-lessons to tackle what I saw as the three most pressing global issues in their writing: lack of detail/emotion, run-on sentences, and word choice. "Show don't tell" is a lesson I use to practice detail. It's simple but effective. I give the kids a sentence (the "I was scared" mentioned above) and then they have to show being scared without using the word "scared" or the dreaded "I was..." with any other word. It turns into a game of who can show the best for each original sentence. This girl didn't want to share hers out loud, so she sent me an email to make up the participation points. An email like this is proof of what I can accomplish with my students in just one lesson on one day. First, she liked it, and that's always my goal: I want my kids to love writing as much as I do. Second, she wrote an awesome example. This is how writers grow, and it's nice to have the reminder in my email.
Reflecting back on these has me energized all over again. School was awesome this week, and I'm glad I took the time to appreciate it here.
I teach 7th and 8th grade English in rural Iowa and hope to reflect, connect, and share with other English teachers. Iowa Council of Teachers of English Executive Board member. Iowa Writing Project superfan. UNI MA:TESS graduate.