For the Moments I Feel Faint.

The last couple months have been full of some of the highest highs and the lowest lows and I feel as though in the midst of all that, I momentarily lost my voice.

Keyword: momentarily.

In these moments of insecurity and jumble, I always have my kids.

Whenever I experience any negativity or frustration, I can always count on my kids to have my back, and often times they don’t even realize it. The wit, the jostling back-and-forth we have, laughter while we’re learning — all this reminds me where my roots have been so deeply placed.

My school implemented a 7 Habits lesson at the start and end of every week called HOWL University. Normally I get pretty agitated when my instructional time is taken (I am a very selfish teacher in that way), but having the chance to talk about character and good habits is easily one of my favorite things (does anyone else get super stoked when a kid asks you about integrity? Anyone? Bueller?).

Recently, our topic focused on Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind. We talked about student futures and students shared what they wanted to do when they left middle school, high school, and beyond. I posted prompts around the room, like the one below, so students could take a few minutes to reflect.

Love a good Top Ten.

Love a good Top Ten.

As I surveyed the room and made my rounds, a boy sitting at the station above called out,

Ms. Stewart, can I put “science class” for this one?

indicating that science class was one of the things he loved to do. I told him that of course he could list it if that’s something he loved, and he smiled and told me it was. He said he didn’t like school too much, but he loved science class.

I’ve seen huge gains in this kid not only as a science student, but as a young adult trying his best to figure himself out (and aren’t we all still doing that anyway?).

A couple more minutes went by and I found myself at another station with a girl and the same boy I mentioned earlier. The question asked about student talents and how students are using their talents. This girl looked at me and said,

Well…what if I don’t have any talents?!

I looked at her, staring mesmerized at the paper, like she was waiting on it to give her an answer. We talked about how everyone has talents, whether that’s being a strong math student or singing or just communicating with other people. I saw doors opening in her brain when we discussed all the possibilities of talents, and I think she saw herself differently when she walked out of room 208.

These moments where I’m able to simply be real with them and help them through their lives in some capacity — pointing out their talents and giving them the space and opportunity to shine — this is where I find my voice.

A Snapshot of a Special Throwback Thursday.

Last week I had the supreme pleasure of visiting my first class of third graders as they finished up their time at Parkwood Elementary. I couldn’t make it to graduation since we had an in-school field trip that day until 12:30, but I was absolutely thrilled to see them on their final day of elementary school.

The originals.

The originals.

It’s a funny thing to think back on my first year teaching; I was a completely different teacher. Talking with my kids, I found that they recall a lot more from third grade than I anticipated (which is AWESOME), and I proceeded to tell them that I had no idea what I was doing that year so I was glad that I didn’t ruin them.

I mean, I KNEW what I was doing, but I didn’t KNOW what I was doing…I was kind of going up to the board and writing things and drawing pictures hoping you would understand what I was trying to say!

They laughed with me about that and then proceeded to sing the bridge to my Constellations song that I taught them years ago (note to self: teaching through song is highly effective and fun).

The impact that we have on children is powerful. There were tears of joy that incurred that afternoon and there are few times that I’ve felt more fulfilled as a teacher — knowing that I had the opportunity to teach those kids to the best of my ability and to make a lasting impression on their lives.

If there’s one thing I love about being a classroom teacher, it’s building relationships with my kids (yes, my kids, not just my students) — it’s sharing stories with them and learning alongside them. That’s something I wouldn’t trade for the world.

A Nice Winter Pick-Me-Up.

After a week of not seeing kids (thanks, Octavia), I went to school for today’s optional teacher workday to get some organizing and other small tasks done that I wouldn’t normally have time to think of doing. Walking into my classroom and tossing my backpack in a chair, I saw my TA left some papers on my table. I figured these came from my mailbox and were probably items to go home with students, until I saw a hand-drawn colored apple written on one of the envelopes. Upon further inspection, I noticed a child’s handwriting:

To: Ms. Allison Stewart
From: Luigi

I squealed with joy as I snatched up the envelope, tearing into the paper casing and excitedly screaming to my TA, “DO YOU KNOW WHAT THIS IS?!?!?”

Opening the letter, my heart melted despite the “life-threateningly cold” temperatures from which I had just come inside. Its contents:

Dear Ms. Stewart,
Thank you for being my best 3rd grade teacher, really funny and super active. You are important to me because you really boosted my knowledge in a really fun way.

Yours truly, Luigi

P.S. You rock.

This is, by far, my favorite thing.

As teachers, we aren’t supposed to have favorites, but there are always students with whom we connect on a deeper level than others; this was one of those students I had last year. He is a brilliant, hilarious, nuanced hot mess who couldn’t sit still on the carpet unless I gave him a shoelace to play with while I did mini-lessons. He laughed at my jokes and we chatted about the stories we heard on NPR that morning, and I’ve never been sadder to see a kid transfer schools at the end of the year.

If there’s something I want my kids to remember after my class, it isn’t content; it’s the life experiences gained from the year. It’s the friendships, the collaborative thinking, the way they found learning to be fun and powerful. I need my kids to know that when they walk out of Room 40’s door in June to become fourth graders, they are prepared to take on the world and they know that they will always have their biggest fan just a building (or an email filled with emojis) away. This is how we make an impact – through our relationships.

What a perfect pick-me-up in the midst of a week of bitter cold and boredom.

Showing Appreciation.

Last week, the third grade team put together our bi-monthy newsletter to go home with students. We always have a little “upcoming dates” section in our newsletter, and we realized that next week is Teacher Appreciation Week.

This evening I’ve had the time to sit and think about how grateful I am for the teachers I’ve had in my life. I probably wrote a post similar to this at some point, but I feel like as I draw nearer to the end of my first year in this profession, showing appreciation to those who have taught me means so much more.

I watch this video and feel so much emotion. It reminds me of how much my teachers had an impact on me throughout my education.

Julie was just the coolest professor I think I could have imagined. She’s feisty and always full of love. She taught me about literacy, and how it’s so much more than just reading from a book. She let me babysit her son when he was only weeks old, and I had the absolute honor of reading him what I call baby’s first poems (Billy Collins, so quality). The greatest thing about Julie is that I know she believes in me as not just a teacher, but as a human being, and that means the whole world to me to know that she’s behind me 100%. Thank you.

I attribute my love for writing and my blogging success to Mr. Mace. He always pushed me in Honors English 2 to be the best writer I could be, and thanks to his meticulous comments on all the papers I turned in, I made a perfect score on my writing test in tenth grade (I think you still owe me a steak dinner for that?). I truly felt like I could write whatever was on my mind in that class, and my creativity was always encouraged. Thank you.

History has always fascinated me, but it really latched onto my heart when I took APUSH with Mr. Drake. The class was extremely rigorous in comparison to all of the other high school courses I had taken, but I willingly accepted the challenge (because I’m your classic student/LIFE overachiever — show me the gold stars!). I’ve never been more driven in a high school class, and his extensive readings and DBQ gradings truly helped prepare me for college. What’s even better is that now he’s my neighbor in the Triangle and we’re friends — TEACHER FRIENDS. Thank you.

For a really long time, I wanted to do something science-related with my life. Actually, I think for the majority of my life I always wanted to pursue a career in science. Mrs. Hurley made me love chemistry so much that I didn’t just take her Honors Chemistry class, but I also took AP Chemistry with her, too. The class was hard, but I have some of my favorite high school memories from her class — I don’t think I’ll ever forget the time when I accidentally made something shoot out of a test tube, consequently breaking the test tube. Thank you.

Sanchez taught me what it meant to be a leader. Leadership is a lifestyle, not a title. It’s about what you do, and good enough is neither good nor enough. I spent hours upon hours investing my time into bettering my school, and that taught me a lot about what it means to be a servant leader. I also started watching The Office during my time in Leadership, which has been pretty crucial to my development as a person. Leadership isn’t about speeches and dances and rallying the troops at home football games; it’s about relationships. Thank you.

It wasn’t until middle school when I really started finding my way musically. I took chorus for two years with Mrs. Skeen and really found my passion for music and singing. It was her who got me to try out singing the National Anthem in seventh grade for our basketball games, and almost ten years later I’m still singing the Anthem anywhere I possibly can. She taught me that it’s okay to not be a soprano, and I’ll never forget how affectionately she spoke of us altos — we’re sultry and often the comic relief of the show, so how could people not love us? Thank you.

In 1st grade, the teacher seed was planted. I remember always wanting to pass out papers and help Mrs. Cropper, and I thought she was so pretty with her cute teacher clothes and so nice and just the most wonderful person imaginable. I also remember cutting my hair and making bangs because RJ dared me to…ah, to be young! Mrs. Cropper proved to be a great example of what a teacher should look like in my mind. Thank you.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget anything about fourth grade. I remember my first big crush and having code names for him that changed every month and my teacher dropping those code names in casual class discussions (all the girls freaked out, of course). She would spend afternoons just reading to us, and my favorite book she read was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl (who soon after became one of my favorite authors of all time). I read that book to my third graders this year, and now we’re reading our third Roald Dahl book — per their request! Math wasn’t my strongest subject, and I remember hating long division. Ms. Siefring actually took time to sit with me at her desk and go through problem by problem on a worksheet — step by step. I taught a remedial group of my fourth graders last year about long division, and it was such a neat experience coming full-circle and sharing my struggles with the topic with my students. Her patience was incomparable and she truly taught me how to problem solve, not just in math but in every aspect of my life. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t know half of what I know about North Carolina history since we did the coolest project about the state. I also wouldn’t know about plagiarism (I still feel awful that I copied and pasted so much on that project — I’m glad I’m aware of the repercussions of poor research!). Thank you.

You know, if I’m being honest I think I could write a book chronicling my experiences with every teacher I ever had. Teachers are so important, and I don’t say that because it’s my current job — I say that because it’s true. They’re invaluable. A teacher is a game changer. Every teacher I had shaped me in some way, and I can look back and see how I have evolved as a learner throughout all these years. I’m so eternally grateful for that.

To my friends and peers who dedicate their lives to living in classrooms and fostering out-of-the-box thinking, thank you. The path you walk is not easy, but know that this is a gift. What you’re doing matters. What you’re doing makes a difference, whether you see it or not. This profession is not one of instant gratification, but rather of lifelong application. Stop for a second and think about why you became a teacher — think about how the teachers you had changed the way you thought about problems or breathed new life into a subject you thought was dead. You have so much power.

So, to all of my teachers and every educator out there — gracias, merci, شكرا, danke, ありがとう, спасибо, gràcies, 감사합니다, obrigado, dziękuję — thank you.