This is the first time in ten years that I am not in the classroom for Teacher Appreciation Day.
Mind you, I didn’t always know it was Teacher Appreciation Day. Usually nothing really special happened to mark the occasion. There were exceptions to that rule:
One year, a sixth grader gave me an apple. It was an amazing moment, something out of a book. She dimpled up and said, “Thanks!” as she put it in my hand.
One parent wrote me a thank-you note for helping her son enjoy Spanish for the first time and feel comfortable speaking in class even though he had a speech impediment.
An eighth grader told me, “You know, you’re a good Spanish teacher. They’re not all like you. You bring light and positivity to the classroom.”
I didn’t appreciate everything I was doing for my students until they pointed it out to me. Thanking a teacher for what she did, and saying what it was, is incredibly powerful.
I loved being a teacher, despite the (many) challenges of the role. I miss my students, miss their personalities and energy and humor and presence in my life.
Recently I saw former students in New York City. They swarmed me with questions and hugs. I was glowing, watching them with my daughter and telling them about California.
I didn’t know what to say when they asked, “Are you still a Spanish teacher?”
Well… I’m teaching my daughter by speaking exclusively Spanish to her, every day. I’m tutoring local students. I might run a class for adults who want to brush up on their Spanish next fall.
Would that make me a teacher, if I had a class?
Is that what makes someone a teacher?
What about if you just have a “class” of one?
A while back I was talking with my therapist about the many ways that I am like my mom. He listened and nodded and said, “Of course you are like your mother. You are her student.”
I had never thought about it that way. I am my mother’s student?
Yes. I am my mother’s student. She was my first teacher. She gave birth to four children in as many years, and left her job to take care of us in our home.
My mom taught us how to speak, and listen, and sing, and share, and read. She taught us to take quiet time every day and pray every day. She taught us how to do what made us happy.
I couldn’t appreciate her job, as our mother and a homemaker, until I had my own baby. I didn’t even appreciate that it was work. I always said my mom “didn’t work,” since she was at home.
Let’s rephrase that right now: My mom worked incredibly hard, at home, to teach and form and mold us. What we have going for us, personally and professionally, is due in large part to her.
Mother’s Day is coming up and I am able to appreciate her work as a mother more than I ever have before. I owe her a shout-out today though, too. My mom was my first teacher!
At my last teaching job, not just on Teacher Appreciation Day, but regularly, a few ninth graders would also stay after class. They would wait until they could catch my eye to say thank you.
“Gracias, Señora Schwenkler,” they would say with a smile; I would reply, “De nada,” and wish them a good day. Thus closed every class with them, and I would head home with a full heart.
In nine years of teaching, I had never experienced this. I remember my reaction when this first began. I thought, “Wow!! Who raised you?”
So today I wonder:
How can I be a parent like that? How can I send a child out into the world who elicits that reaction?
How can I be that kind of teacher to my daughter?
If she is my student, how do I want to speak and act and choose to relate to others? What do I want her to learn?
As a teacher at new school, I would always ask, “What is the curriculum?”
As a mother I create the curriculum, consciously or not, every day. I create the lessons and learning activities. I model for my daughter, as I used to model for my students, how to act and how to live.
My students were always watching me, carefully. Now Alicia is, all day long, at close hand. She learns from me, first.
What a beautiful invitation to living well and mindfully!
How can you see that you are your mother's student?
What kind of teacher do you want to be for your (current or future) kids?