“celebrate the successes”

Our school has a lot of really great technology for students to use, including iPad and iPod carts. I’ve been using the iPod cart quite a bit lately for test review, and my students are able to play a lot of interactive (and free) social studies apps.

This morning while I was swearing in a new group of National Junior Honor Society students, several of my homeroom students covertly stole 7 iPods from the cart in my room. The substitute had no clue what happened , and I didn’t even realize they were gone until an anonymous tipster encouraged me to take inventory.

After a four-hour investigation, lock-down, and manhunt, all but one iPod was accounted for. As my day ended, I walked in the holding room to face the twelve thieves and conspirators. I looked around and was all-at-once disappointed, shocked, and angry. I stared at the faces of students who I invested countless hours in and some of whom I thought I knew better than this. I felt betrayed, and thought that after all these days, hours, and classes together, they would make better decisions. I thought they were different people.

I have been a teacher for five years; the last four have been in urban, at-risk schools. Whenever I tell people where I teach, the reaction is usually, “Oh, you’re brave”, or “I’ve heard those kids are terrible.” My reaction is always to ask, “Have you ever been to our school? Do you know my students?” The answer is always no, because people are always judgemental.

I have always been proud to teach where I do, and to teach who I do. For a little while today, I was upset, mad, disappointed, and sickened. But I am still proud of my students – not the decisions they made today, but the growth and progress the vast majority of them have shown throughout the school year.

As I looked through my emails from the day, there was a reminder from my principal about the best way to tell students their test scores. “Be mindful of those who did not pass,” she warned, “and celebrate the successes.”

Days like today happen. Students grow up and make their own decisions – sometimes they’re bad. But today was just one day, and I still have many successes to celebrate.

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“am i your favorite student?”

During tutoring today, one of my students asked me where he ranked out of all my students. 

“I mean, I’ve gotta be in the top three, right?”

I laughed and told him to finish his work, but it was cause for reflection.  After five years and roughly 100 students per year, you would think I would forget many of them.  Not a chance.

This week I’ve had several encounters that have given me reason to celebrate my experiences as an educator.  An unsolicited thank you message, a cap-and-gown picture of a former student getting ready to graduate, and a post on Facebook from one former student about to graduate from college with honors.  I am exceedingly proud of every single one of my students, and as I surveyed their accomplishments I couldn’t help but think, “I did that”.  (ok not really, but I helped.)

As I reminisced with one former student online, she commented that, “it seems like just yesterday when I was in your class defending a case…and I won!”  It was something I had completely forgotten, but I instantly teared up knowing that she remembered.  Years later, she remembers my class.  For all the complaining we do in the teaching community about numbers and reports of success, graduation season is one time when I don’t mind being measured.