Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Oh, teacher...

Teacher Appreciation Week is here once again, and I've been trying to show my appreciation to the teachers who've supported our library so well this school year.  Our school has been without a librarian for several years, and I was tasked with making the library a vibrant learning hub once again.  We're not there yet, but we're well on our way.  I decided to hold my classes this week without the teachers...normally they're required to stay so that we can collaborate on lessons or in order for teachers to assist their students as they search for "the right book" each week.  But this week I sent them away so their students could write and record the reasons their teachers are special to them.  I've seen lots of stick figures, hearts, flowers, and sentiments like, "You're the best teacher," or "Thank you for making me ready for the test..."  Our children are so ready and willing to spill the beans about what their teachers mean to them.

I have a couple of literature circles going at any given time, and while students worked in the library on their teacher appreciation letters, I had to break away to meet with one of my literature circles. The group of fourth graders discussed the last few chapters of a novel we're reading, Crenshaw, by Katherine Applegate.

In the book, the main character, Jackson, is dealing with his family's financial issues by inventing an imaginary friend.  It happens to be a huge, black and white cat who shows up during critical emotional passages in Jackson's life.  Jackson is embarrassed by the idea that he has this friend he calls Crenshaw,  but he needs the connection in order to handle the difficulties of his father's MS, his family's homelessness, and his need for meaningful friendships at school.  As we read through the novel, we have done a lot of vocabulary work.  Some of our students have a limited lexicon;  there are many words we've encountered in the novel that are unfamiliar and we've done quite a lot of detailed work with understanding context clues to discern meaning.  

Today we had a term I wasn't sure they'd understand, so I'd highlighted it in my mind.  "Final Notice of Eviction" was the term, and as we reached that phrase in the paragraph, I paused for understanding.  The word final was clear;  the word notice was clear; but I expected some questions about eviction.  Not necessary.  Each student was completely familiar with that experience.  As I listened to their stories and followed the connecting threads that had become a part of this rugged tapestry called childhood, I thought of their teachers.

When you teach at a school that is classified as Title I, and that school is labeled with "poverty issues",  teachers must do so much more than teach. They offer more than an academic scope and sequence.  For teachers in Title I schools, the school day is full of diverse and challenging moments. 

Safety.  Security.  Stability.

Day in and day out, our teachers show up.  For the most part, they are not absent.  When they're sick or sick and tired, or when their children are sick or sick and tired, they don't stay home.  They come to school. They know that a day away from campus may threaten the very stability that their students have learned to trust.  They arrive early and stay late.  Each weekend they're quizzing each other via social media to see when "the building will be open" so they can go to school to work.  

They talk the talk and walk the walk, offering both leadership and friendship.

I'm very proud of the job they're doing;  I'm proud of the job we're doing.  The teachers around me make me proud to be part of this profession.  

As the week concludes, I'll convey my appreciation with my own letters and words, just like their students, but I have so much more to say than what I can fit on a card or in a sound byte.  

These teachers, they're changing the world.  
One child at a time. 
What they do is important. 
Their pay will never be commensurate with what they give.
What they offer our kids is priceless.
I'm proud to know them. 

Oh child, would you give me your smile, your burden, your story 
and trust me with the treasure of who you are?