Teacher Appreciation In The Schools

My wife teaches pre-K in a poor area. The kids come from different kinds of families including those who don't speak much English. It's challenging work. She's a natural at it, which is to say that she has been doing it so well and thoughtfully for so long that she makes it look natural, almost effortless.

On Teacher Appreciation Day some kids and families brought her gifts. Our country doesn't value children so my wife's salary is crap and she has no benefits, but kids and parents know a good teacher when they see her and bring gifts when occasions come along. It was all very nice and my wife was very appreciative.

The next day she came home with one more gift bag. Inside I saw an unopened box of Wegmans cereal. Honey? I asked, pointing to the bag, expecting a ridiculous story. Instead, I learned of grace and wonder.

One child, seeing other kids presenting my wife with gifts, was horrified not to have anything to give. She must have said as much to her family. Remember that we're talking about a four-year-old who doesn't speak much English and lives in poverty. Picture her making a fuss about how she's just got to have something to give teacher. The parent has a gift bag but no present. The parent or kid sees an unopened box of cereal and this seems right to one or both of them. Into the bag it goes and the kid comes to school thrilled to present my wife with a gift.

My wife accepts the gift bag without looking into it, gives the kid a big hug and thank you, her face the very picture of gratitude and love. I know that face and look, having had the good fortune of all that turned on me from time to time, so I know that kid felt like she was the hub of the universe, deserving all the love my wife showed her. I like sitting here imagining that moment of wonder and grace that is made all the more poignant with a four-year-old desperate to give something to her teacher.

I mean, come on. This is beautiful stuff.

Later, my wife sees the box of cereal. For just a moment her face forms a question mark, but then she realizes the significance of this gift, the beauty of it, and knows that she has been presented with something special, maybe something spectacular. This is what she does: she sees the wonder in these things though she doubts the wonder of herself that brings on such acts of kindness.

I filled a bowl with that cereal this morning. I poured milk over it and maybe a tear or two that I was blinking away because of the image of that little kid, her need to give, and the woman who glowed receiving it. God I'm in love with this world and especially in love with that woman.

Brief Thoughts About School Trips

We took students to the Chinese buffet for lunch. Just a few of them because that's all who brought signed permission slips and were willing to go. We invited every kid in the program (a pretty small number, ours being an alternative school for at-risk kids) and were prepared to take all of them.

Shouldn't such a trip be a reward?, you ask.

First, they had to come up with the money. It was too much hassle to have the school pay (though my supervisor tried her best, bless her). If kids have to pay, that's no reward.

More important, rewards are a stupid educational ideas. Here's how to tell: they are done all the time and accepted as a matter of course. Anything at school that is just the way you do it is probably wrong. Also, consider the kid barred from going. It's a punishment and if you're into that, fine, but I'm into teaching and learning. The "bad" kid is taught that she/he sucks and thus learns to be worse in order to reciprocate.

Exasperated, you say, so it's a participation trophy!

If the trip was a reward and we then let every kid go, it's a participation trophy and bad lesson. If instead this is something to which every student is invited because there is a lot to learn from it, then it's just like a class, only tastier. We invited kids, set up a structure for participating, and let them learn from the experience.

Yeah, what did they learn from eating at a Chinese buffet?

  • Swearing in public is a mark of bad manners, disrespect, and idiocy.
  • Take small portions and go back for more.
  • Saying please and thank you makes everything better.
  • Try new things and talk about them.
  • Not everyone likes the same things.
  • We like each other.
  • There's more to learning than four core subjects.
  • Learning is better when it's not graded.
  • Teachers do their best work when they seem like they're doing none at all.
  • Eating too much is uncomfortable but unavoidable at a buffet.
  • There's always room for sugary coffee drinks.

One kid learned that "bring a signed permission slip or you won't go" means just that. He wanted us to call Mom for permission. I said no and when he asked why I told him tennis is best played with a net.

To recap: school trips are good, rewards suck, and remember your signed permission slip if you want to eat at the buffet. Class dismissed.