Thursday, May 19, 2016

Firsts and Lasts: Thoughts on winning the teacher lottery

Tomorrow is my daughter's last day of high school. It's a bit mind-jolting because I still remember her first day of kindergarten so vividly. She waited to board that big yellow bus with her best friend, Jillian (they are still the best of friends, despite moving states away from each other in third grade, and are planning a mission trip together this summer), clutching roses for her teacher. Mrs. Gromer, who stood all of 4'6" tall, and who through movement, dance, story and song made learning the best kind of fun.

First day of Kindergarten. I swear this just happened yesterday.
From the beginning, relationships proved centerpiece to learning. In first grade we needed to arrive at school 15 minutes early so Sam could hug no fewer than 11 teachers and staff members, culminating with her beloved teacher, Mrs. White, who didn't bat an eye when Sam stood, jiggled and swayed while doing her seat work.

Phonics gave her fits in 2nd grade, as it became apparent she had difficulty with auditory processing. Mrs. Spurlock encouraged my visual learner to improve her reading by illustrating the sounds. "Don't worry, she loves stories. When it clicks, it'll click big."

It clicked in third grade with books by Lemony Snicket and encouragement from Mrs. Antle. "She's definitely an out of the box thinker," confirmed her teacher.
In fact, let's PAINT the box
and turn it into a Viking ship!
KUNA 2016
She was a little nervous about Mrs.Webb for fourth, as she had heard rumors she was tough. And she was tough, the best sort of tough - the kind of tough that taught her artsy brain how to study and organize, while at the same time nourishing her love of stories and missions. Fifth grade sparked a delight in music with Mrs. Cabal, who sang her class through the curriculum.

Middle school was awash in challenging, encouraging teachers who helped grow her up in wisdom, stature and favor with God and man. Homeroom with Mrs. Crawford, who encouraged her interest in Spanish, Hispanic culture, and breakfast treats. Mrs. MacDonald, who taught my skinny, lanky girl to play the giant double bass like a boss. And what joy when the school changed the scheduling to allow students to take both art AND orchestra. Art with Mrs. Davis EVERY DAY? Please and thank you!

Her high school teachers continued to nurture her creativity, passion, and desire for class t-shirts that were on point (thanks, Mrs. Wiley). Hanging out int the art room until past midnight with Mrs. Cusick, ostensibly finishing her AP portfolio; arguing the nuances of history and government with Mr. Ashcraft; discovering the perverse pleasure of rewriting again and again until the essay sparked with je ne sais quoi with Mrs. Hubbard, Mrs. Case and Mr. Rice. She even survived AP biology and honors calculus thanks to the patient, precise guidance of teachers like Mrs. Sitlinger, Mrs. Riley, Mr. Neyhardt and Mrs. Wilson.
T-shirt logo for the spiritual retreat conference,
the designing of which took considerable priority
over mundane issues like homework.
Mid-way through junior year I needed something from her locker. "I don't use my locker," she said, as if I had suggested something ridiculous. Rather, she camped out in J-Hubb's room like some sort of miniature graduate assistant.

It is these teachers who challenged her, respected her ideas, treated her like a friend, that clarified what she wanted in a college - a place where professors and students dialogue complex issues over dinner. That's what she had come to know, come to love. It is not lost on me that Sam won the teacher lottery, and for that I am forever grateful.

"When you study great will learn much more from their caring and hard work than from their style." - William Glasser

"...The great teacher inspires." - William Arthur Ward

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Senior Awards

Last night was my daughter's senior awards ceremony. This event, along with senior softball night last week, marks the beginning of a whirlwind of events commemorating the end of LIFE AS WE KNOW IT and the beginning of THE FUTURE.

I love the recognition of hard work and talent at these award ceremonies. Many of these seniors I knew in elementary school. Many came to talk to me about big feelings or difficult circumstances or friendship dilemmas, so it was especially thrilling to hear their names called for outstanding achievement in academics, the arts, athletics; to applaud for scholarship offers and special commendations. I'm so proud of their effort, thrilled for their giftedness, excited for this next leg of their journey.

But I always find myself a bit conflicted at these awards nights. I find myself thinking of the awards we don't give, the categories that are missing. What about her? I wondered. Do they know how polite she is? She ALWAYS says please and excuse me and she ALWAYS writes thank you notes. For everything. Who does that anymore? Why isn't there a So Polite award? And him. Do they know how friendly he is? Anytime a kid is feeling down and needs a pick-me-up, I know he'll give him a smile. Why isn't there a So Friendly award? And her. She is so brave. She's terrified of public speaking, for good reason, but she stood in front of her peers last month and told her story to the entire class. Why isn't there a So Brave award? And him. He doesn't abide bullying in any form. Anyone acts mean to anyone in his presence better stand down. Why isn't there a So Compassionate award? And that kid. He drives teachers crazy arguing, but it's because he wants to delve deeper into the material, to consider every angle and explore every nuance. Maybe we need a But What About...? award.

These awards ceremonies are already HOURS LONG, so I know that's not tenable. But I think it all the same.

The skills we award are just a small sliver of what's most important. The fastest earns medals and  rightly so, but the uncoordinated kid who guts it out giving everything he has to finish wins with perseverance. The smartest earns scholarships and honor rolls, rightly so, but the child with learning differences who studies late into the night to eek out a C wins at determination. 
I see you, Samantha Thompson!
Second grade hugging award!

Seniors, I am proud of you. I am proud of your awards and your scholarships and your commendations, but I am even prouder of your character, your heart, your passion. I see you - I see your bravery and your determination and your humor and your creativity and your argumentativeness. I see your kindness and your generosity and your mercy. You are valuable and worthy and bursting with talent. Continue being exactly who God created you to be. Outstanding!