Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Way to Make a Heart Feel Good

I love this time of the school year.  Sure, testing is coming up and the students aren’t getting along so well…at this point, they’re more like siblings than classmates.  But if you can overlook the pressure of the upcoming tests and tune out the bickering at the lunch table, it’s the best part of the year.  It’s the time of year when we’re no longer just a class; we’re a family.

It’s the time of year when I finally start to let go with the students, maybe a little more than I should sometimes.  Things that I would never let slide in October are suddenly acceptable and things that I never would have said or done before Christmas break slip out before I even think about it.  We laugh more, we share our thoughts and feelings, and we reach a level of “real” that just can’t be found until the magic of fourth quarter. 

For example, one day last week a student told me he had hiccups and asked how to get rid of them.  I told him to either a) hold his breath, b) go get some water or c) let someone scare him.  He held his breath, but the hiccups persisted so a few minutes later, in the dead silence of kids concentrating on their own work (the kind of scene that a teacher usually strives to achieve), I ran up beside him, poked him in the sides and yelled, “BOO!”  He fell out of his chair (for dramatic effect- I promise I didn’t push him) and the class erupted in giggles.  What was I thinking?” I wondered fifteen minutes later when they were STILL giggling on and off, but then I reminded myself that they’d remember that moment way longer than they’d remember the work on their desks.

Most years by now, I’ve started a countdown to the end of school and I’m focusing on that “number” of days left almost constantly.  But this year has been different.  Maybe it’s me, at this point in my life, or maybe it’s these particular kids, but for whatever reason, I’m not at all looking forward to seeing this class go.  At the risk of sounding cliché, I’d say they’ve taught me a lot more than I’ve taught them.  So with Teacher Appreciation Week rolling by, I’ve found myself feeling appreciative as well as appreciated. 

For the first 150 days of school, we’ve held firm to our rules and procedures.  I’ve kept them on track when they’ve tried to veer a class discussion, I’ve told them to sit down when they come up to my desk to tell that third story during morning work, and I’ve bitten my tongue on at least half the funny comments that I’d like to share with them during the day.  For these last 30 or so days (I’m truly not counting), I want to veer off track a little, listen to that third story, and laugh with them more than I lecture them. 

Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  My challenge to myself, as well as my teacher friends, is to keep that in mind these last few weeks.  If there’s something you want to tell them, a life lesson that won’t be on that test in three weeks but most definitely will matter in three, and maybe even thirty, years – don’t miss the opportunity.  Time is ticking fast, and those are the moments that really matter. 

We watched the movie Shiloh after reading the book recently, and the ending is a real tearjerker.  Every time I’ve shown the movie I’ve had at least one kid bawl, and I will admit I teared up the first five or six times I saw it.  But, sometimes, our emotions affect us in the opposite way.  As the credits rolled last Friday, one of my students looked up at me and said, “That’s the way to make a heart feel good!” with the biggest grin on his face.  Him saying that made MY heart feel good, and I’ve kept that line as a prayer in my heart ever since.  May we all leave this school year with our hearts feeling good, and may we as teachers set the stage for that to happen.          

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