“Are we watching Polar Express today, Miss” my students yelled as they ran into my classroom. It was the last day of school before Winter Break, and everything was getting louder as the day progressed. My stressful week with excited students who decided they no longer wanted to listen or do work was almost over. With mixed emotions of vacation joy and thoughts of ‘Why didn’t I call in sick?’ swirling through my head I reminded students to look for elements of a story as I pushed play to start my ‘educational’ video. I looked at my rowdy middle school students and prayed we’d get through the next 50 minutes without incident.
I watched over my mesmerized class with amazement. It’s incredible what an animated movie can do to the rowdiest of students. My first holiday miracle. Sipping on coffee and eating cookies provided to me by the PTA, I felt I might make it through this Friday before the holidays with happiness remaining in my heart. This would be a major victory for a middle-school teacher, yet here I was with my happiness intact at 2:00 pm. One hour and thirty-five minutes until my two weeks of sleeping in begins.
If you’ve never been a teacher, let me explain what makes winter vacation so nice: no bus duty, being able to eat lunch without monitoring anyone, and limitless visits to the restroom without listening for a bell. Life is going to be so good in a few short hours. The bell rang to end 7th period.
I looked down at the huge, fuzzy reindeer slippers one of my students bought me and smiled, stood up, and laughed with students about my footwear and walked them out of class with hugs and waving. “See ya next year” was the favorite sentence of the day. “Have a great year,” I yelled back to their delight.
These crazy kids are going to run this world one day, I thought as they walked away. I watched all the tardy students leisurely strolling down the hall with their bags of candy and gifts and felt peace. Tomorrow, I will eat lunch at whatever time I feel like it.
With a slight skip, I triumphantly entered my classroom, relieved 8th period was my conference. I planned to gather my chocolates and presents and turn on some festive music to end my day when I heard,” Miss, I don’t want to go home.”
I remember everything instantly being less shiny like the room had been washed over with a dull grey as I looked into my student’s eyes. He stared back at me, “Can I stay here,” please he asked, his voice shaking.
My campus had a mostly at-risk population who struggled. Poverty, fighting, and hunger were a daily part of students’ lives. As teachers, our goal was to help students learn and grow, so they could have a better life one day. Frustration and emotion were a part of what happened here, but this hit me hard.
I put my arms around my student and cried with him as we walked to the counselor’s office. Together, we talked about how he would make it through the next two weeks. Someone went and got him a hot meal; the principal joined us; emails went out; mom was called, and we all worked to bring back his smile. Gifts had already been purchased for him, and we knew he’d be excited to get things he had put on his list, but what he wanted most was to be at school.
This student lived a life where things like electricity and running water weren’t a guarantee. The hot meals he received as he sat by friends in the security of the school cafeteria were something his home life did not offer. Although loved, he knew the next two weeks of his life would be rough, and he wanted a holiday full of good things. To him, that meant being at school.
Teachers who long for a few quiet minutes and students who bring pencils and paper to class would give up all comforts to ensure the well-being of their schoolchildren.
Do we want kids to be on time to our classes? Yes. Do we wish our students spent more time reading than trying to hide the fact they are texting again? Absolutely. But, more than anything, we want our students to succeed.
It takes a compassionate heart to be a teacher. Educators give their time, money, and resources to make a difference. We are a community that shifts the direction of life for many children, and we love it.
We work diligently to help our students every day. Throughout the world, teachers, administrators, counselors, cafeteria staff, bus drivers, etc. work together to be impactful.
The school community is a gift.
I gathered my things and turned off my classroom lights knowing we had all done our best.
Sitting in my car with a heavy heart, I worried about my student. Please let him be okay. Let him have joy this holiday season.
Breathing deeply, I drove home knowing the next few weeks would be tough. With assurances from my principal that he was okay, I enjoyed time with my kids and all the traditions the holidays brought to us. We talked about what happened at school and were reminded the holidays were about being together, not things.
My family marveled at how much my students loved me. They encouraged me that I was making a difference. During the next two weeks, I thought about the blessing of being a teacher and made a promise to myself that holiday season to do more. I am a gift. I made it a habit to reflect on this simple idea from that day to today.
Teachers, you are a gift. Celebrate you this holiday season.
To all my students, your insight and love have impacted my life. You will always be a part of my heart and holidays. You are my greatest gift.