When I began to write this particular post, I fully intended to describe unique and creative ways to teach students how to express gratitude around the holidays. Then I started to think of what the word "gratitude" really means. The dictionary defines it as “the quality or feeling of being grateful or thankful.” It struck me that in my quest to teach my students the importance of gratitude, I had forgotten to take the time to find it within myself.
Each day I am early to rise and go through the motions of my morning, preparing myself for what lies ahead. At the same time, I must continuously prod my 10-year-old son to meet the departure deadline that I have rigidly set in order to beat the morning commuter traffic. As I pore over my daily lesson plan, I frantically seek to ensure that I have included all of my common core standards and student IEP objectives, and that my content meets the “distinguished” criteria of the new APPR evaluation rubric.
During my lectures I analyze each student response, and note that I must make specific changes to certain areas of my instructional delivery, as I am sure that it will affect the outcome of my next formative assessment. Students flow in and out of my room at a rapid pace, peppering me with personal problems and complaints about lockers that won’t open, homework they can’t understand, and binders that have mysteriously disappeared.
I leave exhausted and wish that the thirty-minute drive didn’t seem so cumbersome. Upon reaching my son’s after-school program, I encourage him to quickly gather up his things so that we may get home. It’s quickly getting dark and dinner has to be prepared. Not to mention the fact that he has a pile of homework that I must help him decipher. I look at my sink full of dishes and glance at the calendar, wishing that somehow tomorrow was Friday already. No sooner do I fall asleep, than the alarm rings and it is time to do it all again.
However, in my impatience, I forget that my son has to get up earlier than some kids so that I may get to work on time. He does this every day without complaint, and he is quick to help me get my things together before getting himself ready. I receive a warm departing hug and kiss, along with a wish to have a wonderful day. Moreover, he gives me a priceless look of unconditional love that carries me through a long day.
When I reach my classroom, I forget how wonderful it smells as I open the door and turn on the lights to my magnificent room. I am grateful that I have such an open space, filled with high-quality materials and an overwhelming amount of high-end technology. How fortunate I am to have a job that offers me creative freedom, administrative support, and the assistance of dynamic and committed colleagues.
I forget about the number of students outside my door each morning, eager to talk about things that are meaningful to them. How they are quick to get into their seats when they know that class is about to begin, and how they take risks when answering questions that I know are outside their comfort zones, always looking for my approval. I forget the many occasions throughout the day when I “catch them being good” or when they complete small, random acts of kindness for one another. They seem mesmerized by the “gratitude wall,” recently added to the classroom, each absorbed in the short narratives their peers have written, and they ask if we can do this all of the time. Moreover, each has painstakingly written a letter to a local soldier stationed in Afghanistan, unable to return for the holidays. I also forget how hard it is for them to keep themselves organized and prepared for class, and remember that these are skills that they are desperately trying to master. I am rewarded by students who ask to stay after school for extra help, vocalizing their need to be successful in school. And even though they run out the door, most make eye contact and say, “Have a good night, Miss Albano!” with smiles on their faces.
This time, on the drive home I remember all of the teachable moments I have had throughout the day, emails of thankfulness from parents, and peers who pop in to say, "hi" and offer up words of admiration for my teaching. The ride seems quicker than most, and before I know it, I am approaching my son's school, and I find that I can’t get inside fast enough. As soon as I see his smiling face, nothing else seems to matter. He can’t stop grinning over the test he aced, and he has made a new friend in class today. We both work on dinner, and can’t stop laughing and talking over our meal.
As he kisses me good night, an overwhelming feeling of gratefulness sweeps over me, and I quickly fall asleep, anxious to start the day all over again.
It is easy to forget the little things that give our lives joy each day. This holiday and every day, let us be grateful for messy homework assignments, lost locker combinations, grocery lists, and sinks full of dishes. These are things that make our lives extraordinary!