Sunday, October 23, 2016

Student Appreciation Cards

Friday, October 21, 2016

Today, I passed out something to my students, and for the first time ever, not one was left lying around in my disheveled classroom at the end of the day. Usually, when I hand out something, no matter how many times I tell them to put it in their binder, that they’re going to need it later, or to be sure to take it home to study, inevitably, there are a half dozen left around the room, a paper airplane the floor, tossed carelessly on a computer table, or just left on the counter at the end of the day.

Today was different. Why? I had handwritten each of them a card of appreciation “just because.” Each one of the 44 cards was written specifically to the individual student. I had written them over the past week, privately, secretly, purposefully. One by one, I stared at each student’s name in my grade book, paused, and thought about all of the positive attributes they brought to my class and the world.

Let me tell you, some were definitely harder to write than others! However, I filled each card with heartfelt words; not one was cut short.

“Your silly jokes always make me smile.”
“You are absolutely one of the most intelligent students I’ve ever had.”
“Thank you for being such a hard worker.”
“When you walk into my room every Monday morning and ask me how my weekend was, it makes my day.”
“Your card tricks always amaze me.”
“I appreciate your quiet strength.”
“You have the best laugh.”
“I love looking at your hunting pictures.”
“Thank you for sharing your Eskimo food with me.”
and on and on…

What a learning experience for me! The idea first occurred to me when I saw an elementary teacher on Facebook who had done a similar thing for her students. So, this summer when I was in the lower 48, in and out of gift shops and craft stores, I started collecting packs of blank cards on dollar racks.

Then, when I received a couple of requests from seniors to write letters of recommendation for them for scholarship and college applications last month, I realized that all of my students needed to hear the good things that I would have to say about them.

The students’ responses were priceless. I handed out the cards in the last five minutes of each class. They joked around, especially the boys, when I first handed them out.

“What? No money! Five bucks, even?” laughter ensued.

Then, a quiet moved over the room like a warm blanket as they were all drawn into their cards. The words made them smile as their eyes passed over them. One by one, they looked up at me from the cards, wide-eyed and grinning.

“Thank you, Ms. Kysar,” rang their happy voices, over and over.

They know I love and appreciate each one of them. I pay attention to them, individually. They are not just a name in my grade book. They are my kids. Each one of these students is entrusted to me for 55 minutes each day, 180 days each year for four very important years of their lives. That’s huge, and I don’t take it lightly.

I may be hard on them, harder on some than others. They may drive me absolutely crazy, at times, and I may look forward to escaping from them for a weekend once in a while, but they are my kids, and that’s saying a lot.

Suicide is something that has personally touched every person I know in Unalakleet, adults and children alike. A freshman in a neighboring village took his own life last year. I have students sitting in my class who have fathers, brothers, and uncles who have committed suicide. I even have students who have attempted suicide and survived. If I can do one small thing, say one kind word to make someone feel valued in a way they didn’t feel before, perhaps it will make a difference.

I’m a teacher. I’ve always seen myself as a teacher of students first, a teacher of English second. That is not to say that I don’t spend countless hours researching and creating lessons plans filled with engaging ideas and academic rigor. I spend weekends grading papers, evenings coaching Battle of the Books, lunches planning Student Council events. I bake cupcakes for students who finish their papers early, send care packages to college students, write letters of recommendation by candlelight while watching the ice deepen on the river. I stress over classroom observations that attack my teaching methods and question my every move, while giving me low grades because of student behavior. I fight the bureaucratic red tape, sit on curriculum review committees, attend inservices geared at elementary teachers, and am constantly looking for ways to incorporate the local culture into my lessons while keeping to the Alaska State Standards.

All of this aside, at the end of the day, these 44 souls have been entrusted to me for a time, and I intend to make the most of it!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016


Cacophony. Pandemonium. Bedlam. Clamor. Confusion. Discord. Ruckus. Turmoil.

City. Metropolitan. Ward. Enclosure.

Anchorage. Minneapolis. Chicago. Grand Rapids.

Street Noise
There is a commonality that unnerves me. In my 10 days since leaving Unalakleet, the noise has been overwhelming. I knew it was quiet where I lived, but then again, I didn’t.

Right now, as I sit near the window and enjoy my coffee, there is a constant stream of traffic outside. It never stops, day or night. We run the air conditioner at night not only to keep cool, but to drown out the street noise. Emergency vehicles, sirens blaring, lights flashing, rush past many times each day. City busses. Gears shifting. Brakes squealing. The noise never stops. Even the air conditioner provides added noise in it’s lame attempt to silence it.

Paladino Sculpture Gallery
We visited Frederick Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park the other day. You would think that 125 acres would provide some degree of quiet. Not so. From the eerie music playing in surround-sound as we walked through the Mimmo Paladino sculpture gallery to the constant hum of the humidifiers in the enormous solariums, noise was everywhere. Man-made noise. Outside, concrete waterfalls were “designed…  to create a delightful auditory experience.” Those folks really don’t have a clue.

I keep a steady, low-grade headache while being surrounded by people who may never know true silence. They may never know the complete quiet of an early spring morning on the Unalakleet River, when the ice is too soft to drive on but too heavy for boats, before the songbirds come to life, when the wind is even still, and the silence is so thin that you can hear a jet-plane engine 30,000 feet up making a fuzzy white streak across the brilliant blue sky.

Stillness. Calm. Serenity. Peace.

Sunday, May 29, 2016


I went to church today.

That’s an extremely unusual thing for me to say. My attitude is pretty much, “Been there, done that,” when it comes to organized religion. However, this church is an important part of life for my daughter, Sarah, and my future son-in-law, Joseph. Impact is a Wesleyan Church in Lowell, Michigan. It’s a contemporary set-up with a coffee shop in the entry and rock band on stage, a hip preacher in jeans and flip-flops with a one sentence message that is sure to hit home, and a friendly, casual atmosphere – serving free tacos after next week’s service.

Every song had a message, told a story, and stirred up feelings for me, but not what the average Christian might think. I’m not a “believer,” as the saying goes. What do I believe?

I believe in the human spirit.
I believe in the human need for family.
I believe there is more to this life than we can see with our eyes.
I believe in helping one another.
I believe in cherishing our earth.
I believe that there are old souls and young souls.
I believe that anything is possible.

I don’t believe that “life” ends when we die.
I don’t believe that we are all the same.
I don’t believe that every human has a need for religion.
I don’t believe that Christianity is any more “true” than Buddhism.
I don’t believe that all humans “need” God.

Today’s service told the story of a man who spent 25 years in prison, was released and turned his life around thanks to God. Another story was of a man who walked away from a life of dealing drugs and now has a wonderful wife and family. Finally, there was the story of a woman who had an abortion and it took her years to come to terms with the guilt caused by it. All stories of human resilience. The strength of the human spirit. They were stories of people helping people.

I believe that some people need something to believe in outside of themselves, bigger than themselves. It’s just part of the human condition. There was a time in my life that I needed that, too. It doesn’t make a person better or worse for needing religion or not needing it. We’re just different. Do I sincerely believe that the man released from prison was saved by God or Jesus or whatever? Of course not. I believe that he pulled himself up by his bootstraps and got his shit together! If going to church and believing that some higher power is in control helps him, good for him. I think that’s great. I truly do. That’s his perception, so that makes it his reality.

Personally, I have no need for that outside belief. My own spirit, as weak as it is sometimes, has gotten me through so far. That’s not to say that I haven’t needed the love and support of a close family (both blood-related and not). That also doesn’t mean that I don’t believe that there is more to this life that what we can see. I’m definitely believer in an afterlife, though I’m not exactly sure what that’s about. I believe that my Dad has been with me often since his passing. He’s out there, somewhere, often close by.

I also believe that there are old souls and young souls. I believe that old souls have seen more than one life, many more, and that they are less likely to live a religion-based life. They have little need for that. They are their own anchors. Young souls, on the other hand, have more need for direction, for structured outside rules, for a higher being to guide them. They have a real need for those beliefs and so become religious zealots. Of course, there are many stages in between.

As for me, I’m an old soul. I’ve lived more than one lifetime. I have a difficult time being cornered by religious beliefs. That being said, I’ve taken catechism classes and become Catholic, been “saved” and served as a missionary for the Southern Baptist Church, sung in the Baptist Student Union ensemble in college, taught Girls in Action classes to Methodist preteens, and on and on. All of that was in this lifetime and yet I have not been a church member for over 10 years. I believe that I grew out of it. I regret none of it, though I feel a bit as though I was doing it more to fit in and make others happy, than following my own truth, listening to my own voice. Much pain and heartache has driven home the truth to me, that my own human spirit is what gets me through, along with a lot of help from others. 

When a student of mine makes straight A's, you'll never hear me say, "Praise God!"
You WILL hear me say, "Good job!"

I am happy for all those who find their way, find their truth, find their happiness, whether it be through organized religion in a big city or by being an atheist on a mountaintop. Live your truth. Be you.

This is my perception. This is my reality. I have a peace about it.