We were going to make a memory. I mentally pictured one of those warm and fuzzy moments between my students and me. Planning all the little details was giving me a great deal of pleasure. On our high school career campus where I taught at the time, all the buildings surrounded a courtyard. The landscaping in this opening was minimal, especially at this time of year. It was autumn and most of the trees had shed their leaves, but one spectacular tree was left. Its leaves shone a brilliant crimson in the sunshine. I decided to take my class outdoors under this single beautiful tree to make the moment memorable. I knew they would enjoy the break from our windowless classroom. this would alert them to the importance of the occasion and help cement the memory.
Something positive and significant had happened. It was an event of great importance to me; I had just had my first article published. Admittedly, it was published in a small local newspaper. Technically, I hadn’t sold the article. No money was offered or expected. Yet still I felt high on success. An article I had written had been published with my own byline. They even spelled my name correctly… a rare event. This had been a long-term personal goal and a sense of pride was flowing through me. I wanted to mark this milestone with my class.
Goal setting is something I try to model for my students. I didn’t realize until I started teaching teenagers how lucky I had been in my life. Setting goals was something my mother taught me at home. I was surprised and sorry to note that this skill was particularly lacking in many of my adolescent students. How fortunate for me that my mother had taught me all the steps. First dream. Then visualize your dream. Begin to make it real by finding a picture of what you want and displaying it. In my mother’s home, this meant the kitchen refrigerator. List the steps toward accomplishing this dream and take the first step. As soon as possible, take another step.
Role models are the best teachers, I believe. Sharing my dreams, my accomplishments, and my setbacks with my students is one of the most powerful things I bring to the classroom. My students knew that I wanted to be a published writer. My frequent failures and rejections I shared with them too. How better to make them capable of facing failures in their future than to admit my own and let them watch me continue working the steps toward a dream, even after a failure? They teased me about my dreams, but they humored me too. Naively, I visualized how excited they were going to be for me…how this tiny but significant event in my life would motivate them to set new goals and give them the courage to dream a little larger. I could mentally hear the song ‘I believe I can Fly’ serenading my soul. I looked forward to the last class of the day when this tremendous bonding moment would take place.
I Had Forgotten One Thing
Teenagers sometimes use automatic weapons to burst your bubble when a pin would do the job nicely. Oh, but it was a humbling experience. When I told them we were holding our class outside under a beautiful tree, amazingly but immediately the complaining began…
Why do we have to go outside?
It’s freezing out here!
Where are we supposed to sit?
There’s not enough room on this bench!
I’m not sitting on the concrete!
Why are we doing this?
This is soooo dumb!
And my personal favorite….
Do we get a grade for this?
Disappointed and through clenched teeth, I growled. I mean I really growled. (Clench your teeth and snarl when you read this). We…are…making…a…memory!
Though it wasn’t audible, you could feel the expletive at the end of that sentence. Some of the students quieted down, but several continued to grumble throughout the whole activity. I told them the about the significance of the occasion. I showed them my byline in the newspaper with my name on it. They were not impressed. I read the story aloud to them. It was a touching story about planting tulips with my daughter and about how the reappearance of those tulips each spring signaled that she had survived another year cancer free. They were not touched. I talked briefly about the importance of having meaningful goals and celebrating successes when they occurred. The exact moment I paused in my speaking someone said,
Can we go in now?
Totally deflated, I nodded. A few of them actually sprinted for the door. I had never before seen them run. They sure didn’t run when they were coming to my class. I walked back to the building slowly, feeling completely rejected. I made a mental note never to try anything which even remotely resembled this activity ever again. My self-esteem couldn’t survive it. My wonderful lesson felt like it had been ground through the garbage disposal.
About a year and a half later, Edie, one of my new graduates came to school to visit me. While we were catching up I shared some of my current good news with her. I had just received a book that contained an article I had written for A Fourth Course of Chicken Soup for the Soul. I showed her the book autographed by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen. She gave me the most startled look and said something quite odd as she extended her arm in my direction.
Mrs. Easley, feel my arm.
I was puzzled but I wrapped my hand around her arm as she went on…
I have goosebumps. Can you feel them? You’ve given me goosebumps.
Then she said something even more surprising…
“I can remember the day you took our class outside into the courtyard to read us your article that was in the newspaper.” Her voice was full of awe as she continued. “You told us on that day that you wanted to have a story published in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. I can’t believe you have accomplished this! I’m so proud of you.” She gave me a big hug and then sat down to read the story. I watched her read as I blinked back tears.
How different were our memories of that day. I was certain that I had reached no one. Frankly, it was a horrible memory for me. And yet here was proof that my message had been heard. I have no recollection of telling my students that one of my goals was to be published in Chicken Soup for the Soul. I’m certain I did, but only because Edie shared her memory with me. What an incredible lesson she taught me on that day.
In even our bleakest moments as teachers,
we may truly be accomplishing so much more than is apparent.
Edie taught me that. I will try and remember this forever. Quite by accident, I learned about the positive impact I had made on an afternoon I felt was a total failure. I had literally seen and felt the evidence. Goosebumps are not to be taken lightly.
Just this week my second book for teachers, TEACH…To Change Lives has become available on Amazon.com. Woo-hoo! Purchase a copy to thank or encourage a teacher or future teacher.
It is full of classroom ideas and inspiring true stories.
Each MONDAY in August and up through September 10th, I will post an inspiring true story about teaching. Please pass the word along to all your teacher friends.
Thank you for reading my blog!