Saturday, May 04, 2013

My First Teacher Appreciation Day

... appropriately came at the end of my first year of teaching almost twenty years ago.  I remember so many things about that year: the students, the families, my colleagues, our laughter and tears, the surprising-to-me successes (Wow, I *am* a good teacher!), and the inevitable mistakes (Who am I fooling?  I suck at this.).

Teacher Appreciation Day came on the last day of school that year, and I'm not certain it was even referred to as a holiday or special event.  After our celebration program and the awarding of student certificates, my very first Super Stars were gathered at my feet as I perched atop our reading table, parents surrounding us all, several even sitting behind me at my desk.  One of my Stars however, was pacing near the door.  Surveying the scene in front of him, he was smiling, though I could tell he was anxious.


At the beginning of the year, I would have assumed he was getting ready to run. When I was hired (several weeks into the school year), I was told, "Oh, and you're getting __________.  He's difficult, but you know, new teachers have to get experience somehow."  One colleague laughingly told me that the rest of the staff was taking bets on how long it would take for me to call for help once this student started throwing furniture.  I was assured that it would be okay to call the principal, because the boy had already been "dragged down the hallway" to his office several times before.  Now that I had been hired, "perhaps the smaller class size would help improve the student's mood, ~snicker snicker~."

________ joined my class for the first week tardy every day.  He would walk in as we were starting our first story, and he would keep his eyes on us as he slid against walls and closet doors toward his coat and backpack hooks.  He didn't want anyone coming up behind him.  He was a watcher and a listener instead of a troublemaker for the first few days, and then he began to test the water.  I didn't yell.  I didn't lay my hands on him.  I ignored him when he climbed under the desks.  I quietly encouraged his classmates to follow my example, and bless their hearts, they did.

One day during our second week together,  ________ walked into class tardy as I was reading Where the Wild Things Are (my favorite story).  He dropped his coat and backpack at the door, quickly walked toward us at our story time spot, stepped around his classmates and stood next to my left arm which was holding the book up so everyone could see Max and the Wild Things, roaring their terrible roars and gnashing their terrible teeth.  It was the first time he hadn't navigated his way through the room with his back against the wall or furniture.  The other Stars didn't make a peep about not being able to see the pictures.  They knew something special had happened.

_______ had older siblings, also considered hard cases at the school.  As parent teacher conference time rolled around, I was reassured that the family wouldn't attend, "and honey, be grateful that they don't."  He made wonderful progress over the year, despite the dramas I heard about in the staff lounge.  I never had to send him to the principal, though once I did have to intervene when a specialist complained to our administrator about how _________ had behaved while in his class.  As the principal came down the hallway to discipline my Star after-the-fact, I raised my hand while smiling (pleasedon'tfiremepleasedon'tfiremepleasedon'tfireme) and whispered to ___________ "I promise I won't lie to you or hurt you.  You have to follow my directions and other teachers' directions all of the time.  This is how we will stay out of the principal's office.  Do you understand?  You can go with him, or you can stay with me."  He nodded quickly just as the principal grabbed him by the arm.  "I've taken care of it" I squeaked (pleasedon'tfiremepleasedon'tfiremepleasedon'tfireme).  We returned to the classroom and got straight to work.


As the Stars and their families watched me open gift after gift, I kept an eye on ___________, wondering who or what it was he was waiting for.  Ten minutes before dismissal, with visiting, snack eating and picture-taking occurring, his family walked into the classroom.  They kept to themselves, finding seats in an empty corner, and I could tell they felt extremely uncomfortable.  I smiled and nodded to Mom, and true to form, the other Star Families quietly and politely acknowledged her but didn't invade her space, bless their hearts.  The principal quickly appeared in the doorway, perhaps trying to ascertain if there was going to be a scene.  After all, this family never came to the school.

After greeting his mother, ___________ was ~beaming~ and smiling from ear to ear as he ran over to me with a folded up Kleenex.  I thanked him, but was distracted by another student who accidentally spilled some juice across a desk.  As I tried to set the tissue aside, ___________'s mother yelled "There's something IN IT."  Silence fell for just a few seconds.  Her voice had been a shock, but _________ was still smiling up at me.  Another parent took over cleaning duties as I returned my attention to what was apparently a gift.  Opening the tissue, I found a pendant, reindeer forming a snowflake, with a single gold nugget in the center:

"I didn't steal it Teacher, my mom made it for you."

And that's when I knew:

I was supposed to be a teacher.


His family remained in town but relocated from neighborhood to neighborhood as family issues got out of hand and then resolved themselves over the years.  ___________ would find me from time to time, even knocking on my door at home so he could touch base and tell me that I was still his favorite teacher and he was continuing to do well in school.  Though I eventually left Alaska, the charm and my memories of _________ have remained some of my strongest affirmations as I continue to guide and learn from my Super Stars twenty years later.


Students and families, know this: as you appreciate us, we appreciate you.


  1. I remember that year-and that young man. I think I had a sibling that year (or had recently had one)with similar trust issues. I've often wondered what became of all of them as the years have passed. Thank you for the memories!

  2. Anonymous1:35 PM

    You are amazing. But I bet you know that already....


As always, thank you for your comments, tips, suggestions and questions!