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!