Monday, June 2, 2014

Gift-Givers Amid a Thousand Faces

This is the time of the year when "thank you" notes or gestures appear out of the blue.

Today, a student surprised me in the hallway with a bag of fresh ground coffee from a farmer's market in Philadelphia. It was before school in a crowded, chaotic hall.

It is nice to be thought of in this way, isn't it? But we don't need money spent on us. A kind word offered back our way can often refocus a teacher's perspective on the year that just passed.

I made it a point to thank her in that moment (from a previous lesson learned, explained below) and to ask her what she bought for herself, what she enjoys at the farmer's market, how she treated herself when she was there.

On a related note, a pop-up message appeared on my desktop recently--it came from a student at the high school. She went through my class last year and has continued sharing her writing with me on occasion.

The kind words--the thank you--were like gold.

In a year where I experienced my fair share of questions and challenges, the affirmation that I may have done something right for at least one kid is refreshing and uplifting.

It reframed how I now see my year.

Several years back, on the last day of school, a student hand delivered a present. The room was chaotic. Kids were starting to move towards the hall to walk to the gym for the end of the year reception. Distracted by something else, my eyes hadn't even looked at my gift-giver as I took the gift. I quickly mouthed a truncated "thank you"--but barely--as I saw kids (pushing and shoving) who needed a little guidance.

My gift-giver disappeared in the crowd.

Something intuitive tugged at me and I opened the box as the last kid filed out into the hall. Inside was a handmade tiny flower pot. It was covered in photographs and sayings from our experiences together in the middle school play that I had directed. It was the sweetest thing ever and felt awful that I quickly dismissed her to make sure a couple of other kids would stop pushing and shoving.

When I got down to the final day's assembly in the gym I made it a priority to find my gift-giver amid a thousand faces to thank her properly.

It caught her by surprise. She blushed and smiled a huge toothy, silver-braced smile. And I remember thinking, my god, how cool is that...and my god, how I almost missed that opportunity.

As the year ends, it might be a good thing for all of us to make an effort to thank a colleague, an administrator, a student. It might be a good thing to make the conscious effort to take whatever energy, stress, anxiety, fatigue we may be feeling, and for just one more day, one more moment, remake ourselves into someone else's gift-giver amid a thousand faces.

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