Friday, July 31, 2015

What it's like teaching high school: Part 3

This post is long overdue. I meant to write about this in June, but there was, you know, pneumonia... and C. Diff... and hives... but then Missouri to help me forget all of that (and now it occurs to me I should probably write something about this year's trip to my favorite place in the Universe).

Then today I was prompted by an email in my work inbox from one of my freshmen. (Yes, it's summer break, and no, I'm not currently teaching.) Why was she emailing her last year's English teacher mid-summer? To ask me what "scent" I would like because she's making "a homemade sugar scrub" and wanted to make some for me, too. Yeah, so, these situations always make me chuckle at the folks who remark that it must be "so hard" teaching high school. Why yes, yes it is. I had to sit there and think for several minutes about how this sixty-one-year-old tomboy was going to respond to a fifteen-year-old who clearly has the superior education when it comes to cosmetics.

[Oh time out right here; I have to go wash the chocolate off my fingers. More about that in a sec.]

Anyway, what I intended to write back in June was just this: I often get thank you gifts at the end of the school year, tokens of appreciation from moms who are grateful I never snapped and killed their rowdy boys or sassy girls. Usually it's something like a Starbucks gift card (thank you!) or a bar of dark chocolate (because I beat it into my students' heads all year long that I love dark chocolate). I did get some nice dark chocolate truffles this year from one of my Honors freshmen (thus the need to go wash my hands because of course thinking about them made me have to eat one). What made the gift lovely, though, was the note the student attached:

Ms. Murphy, I bought these because I love you, not for bribery. ["not for bribery" was very carefully lined through but still readable--the gift was delivered before final exam grades were posted.] Anyways you're a great teacher who made my freshman year enjoyable. Have an awesome summer. I'll miss your sarcasm. Love, Thu N. [heart icon]

Please note the correct use of "you're" in this brief missive. Also the correct placement of commas after "Murphy" and "you." It makes my heart burst with pride. (When I asked my Honors classes at the end of the year what most stood out to them as something they had learned in my class, several immediately and enthusiastically responded, "Learning where the commas go!") In all seriousness, Thu was an absolute joy to have in class, and not because she's a hard working Honors kid (though she is that). She came in smiling every day, and her delighted laughter when someone said or did something goofy was infectious.

Erica, on the newspaper staff, gave me a thank you note as well. In it, she says, "Thank you for "another great year of Journalism." She'll be the editor-in-chief next year, with all the stress and responsibility that will come along with the title, so maybe she won't thank me next June. But she'll be damn great as EIC.

In all, I received five personal notes at the end of the year, and that is the point of this post. Teenagers aren't always sitting around with their heads bent over their phones, their thumbs flying as they send text after text. It is not all that unusual for them to exhibit behavior that is both gracious and humbling. Sometimes they actually sit down with a jelly pen and a piece of paper (or a sticky note) and express their heartfelt appreciation for someone whom they feel has helped them a little along the way.

These artifacts will be treasured, of course, in my folder kept solely to hold such mementos. I suspect I will look at them often in my retirement and smile again at the wonder of great kids.

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