Getting to know our students is one of the greatest perks of being a teacher. We educators don't roll out of bed each morning in hopes of a fat paycheck or lots of downtime during the day. Instead, we manage the paperwork and tedious meetings and emails and the poor pay and crowded classrooms and long hours so that we can enjoy the best part of our school day--our students.
Few of us have not been touched by the grace of our students--those small and unexpected kindnesses that can surprise even the most jaded educator. From the tiny first graders who volunteer to help their teacher collect papers to the seniors who offer to carry heavy loads for us, we all benefit from being around children.
The first time that I was on the receiving end of this grace was as a student teacher being observed for the first time. I was incredibly nervous even though I had just the perfect (to me, anyway) lesson ready to go. In the midst of my presentation, with my supervising teacher in the back of the room recording my real and imagined mistakes, I turned away from the class to write on the board. When I faced them again, there was a tiny, hastily written note: "Your pants are unzipped!" One of my students, aware of how nervous and unsure of myself I felt, had offered the most practical help possible!
Since then, my students have continued to offer the best parts of themselves in countless ways. Recently, a colleague lost a dear family member and missed school for several days. I watched as our shared students passed around a condolence card so that each one could write a brief message of sympathy. When their teacher returned, she was treated gently for a few days by even the most demanding students. Our students forgot their own adolescent issues for a little while and treated her with dignity, affection, respect and, yes, with grace.
I have never made it a secret that I enjoy being with my students. I hope that attitude is reflected in the books that I write as well as in the workshops that I give for other teachers. I want everyone who chooses education as a career to feel the same way I do. Sometimes, though, in the relentless press of the daily grind, it is hard to remember why we teach. On those days, I remind myself that I don't teach a subject, I teach students. Each one of them deserves the best from me.