Some of the lessons include, but are not limited to, these ideals: “It is OK to laugh and cry,” “Be persistent,” “Just listen,” and “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”
These are clichés that we have all heard, but when these young people taught me these principles through their actions and from their hearts, they became lessons etched into my life forever.
In one stressful district varsity volleyball game, my girls were not playing very well, so I called a timeout to get them “back in the game.” I was pretty emotional and was having a difficult time spitting out proper instructions, which caused them to start laughing. I was so flustered and at a loss for words, that all I could do was join my girls in their laughter. They played magnificently and won the match easily. This lesson taught me that laughter is the best medicine.
In two high schools where I taught, some of my students would sit in my room before school started each day. I didn’t mind because I assumed they wanted a place to do homework or eat breakfast. Eventually, the kids began to talk to me about some of their difficulties. At first, this frustrated me because I needed this time to prepare for the day. But soon, I realized that this was an important time for these kids to share with someone who would truly listen. Once I recognized the gift of listening meant so much to them, I would stop what I was doing and really focus on what they were saying. This was a great lesson and reward for me because I understood that I might be the only person they had to listen to them.
I worked in one district that had quite a few migrant students from Mexico. These kids had many difficulties socially and academically because of the language barrier. One year, I had a sixth-grade student who, like the other migrant children from Mexico, spoke no English. Eduardo was different, however, because he would refuse Spanish assistance from the bilingual teachers and students. Instead, he would listen to my instructions carefully and allow me to work with him on the assignments. This was difficult, but he chose to do all of his lessons in my class instead of getting assistance in the ESL (English as a Second Language) room. By the end of the year he was almost fluent in English, and by eighth grade, he was taking honors courses. In high school, Eduardo was in the National Honor Society and graduated with academic honors. Lesson learned. Persistence pays, indeed!
In all the schools in which I have taught, students have surprised me with their talents and gifts. I hate to admit it, but there were times when I summed up students on our first meeting based solely on their appearance. When a student with “creative” clothing styles came into my room, I would think to myself, “Oh boy, this one is going to be a doozey.” And more often than not, these students proved me wrong by demonstrating their skills, contributions and intelligence. So the cliché, “Never judge a book by its cover,” is an important lesson that many students have taught me.
Because I have taught in nine districts, I have had to say many good-byes. Each good-bye had its own unique sting to it. After teaching and coaching only one year in a high school on the outskirts of Dallas, my husband and I made a decision to move back to the Panhandle. I gathered my varsity volleyball girls together and told them that I would be moving after the last day of school. I tried to be the “brave adult” and hold back my tears; after all, we had only been together for one season and spring training. But when I saw that some of my girls were crying, I realized that I did not have to be “brave” and hold back my tears. That day, I learned that it is OK to show your true emotions and tears.
It is impossible for me to articulate how the awesome rewards of teaching have affected my life. But if I could write a letter to my past students, I would tell them how grateful I am for the many valuable lessons that they taught me over the last 20 years.