Six Important Lessons

This year, I have an intern teacher in my classroom. It has been an interesting shift, but ultimately, a good one. I’m confident that she’ll be a good teacher when she gets her own classroom but in the interim, I wonder what, if anything, she’s learning from me.

Things I Hope I Teach My Intern

  1. You’re going to make mistakes. Yeah, I know. Way to start with a downer. It’s true, though. Sometimes it’ll be something small, like forgetting to make copies of a math worksheet. Other times it’s something more substantial. Regardless of the mistake, it’s what you do after that matters more. Those are the moments that show your character.
  2. Be humble. Whether you need to apologize to your students for your rotten attitude or you’re dealing with an irate parent, humility is the route you should take. It shows that you’re human too. However, be careful not to mistake being a doormat for humility. It’s a mistake I’ve made in life too many times to count and one that always ends poorly.
  3. If you’re not emotionally healthy, your class won’t be either. This one has actually been something I’ve continually had to keep in check. These kids in the classroom aren’t just sponges academically, they’re emotional sponges as well. When 85% of my class is having a rough day, that usually means that *I’m* having a rough day. Take 5 minutes to stop, regroup, and begin again. Similarly, these 5- and 6-year olds don’t actually have to dictate how I feel about my day. There is more to my life than just that classroom.
  4. Books and lectures cannot prepare you for what you’ll see in your classroom on a regular basis. Pain is a horrible truth in life and even more apparent when you’re a teacher. Kids will come back from long weekends with cracked lips, sunken eyes, and pouchy bellies because they didn’t have food to eat or clean water to drink over the past several days. Or they’ll walk in with dark bruises on their tiny bodies and be unable to tell you where they came from. Some will just sit in a corner and inexplicably cry. Some share stories of times family members have been forcibly removed from their houses, others tell you about that man from the park who touched them in their bathing suit area after he gave them candy. Learning that you’re very limited in what you can actually do for these children is beyond frustrating. These things will boil your blood. If you let it, all of these stories can pile up and overwhelm you until you throw your hands up and walk away.
  5. Love, first and always. I’m confident that this is why I’ve been successful in my career and still have a decent-sized portion of my sanity. I spend a massive amount of energy each day making sure that all of my students completely understand that their teacher loves them. Even the ones that drive me batty. Because regardless of how crazy that one kid makes you feel, that’s someone’s most important, precious thing in the world. Every single child deserves (and needs!) to hear that she’s wonderful, beautiful, creative, brilliant, unique, and every other attribute she possesses. Not just once, but continually. When you show people that you know they have worth, you build a stronger relationship.
  6. This job is so much harder than anyone outside of it believes. And still, it’s completely worth it.

Watch What You’re Teaching

No matter who you are,
somebody’s learning from you.
– Kid President

Dear Celebrities,

We haven’t been formally introduced; I’m Kyla. I’m a kindergarten teacher at an elementary school in a small town. I’ve been meaning to write a little something to you but honestly, I just haven’t had the time. #99problems, right?

I spend each work day with 19 5- and 6-year olds. Contrary to popular opinion, kindergarten isn’t about nap time and finger painting. Yes, we teach ABCs and 123s, but more importantly, kindergarten sets the foundation of a child’s education. I’ve spent my entire adult life working with children for a few reasons, the biggest being that I believe in the importance of what I do. In addition to teaching kids how to read, write, and essential foundational math skills, I teach my students about character. I’ve built reading lessons around valuing kindness, spent hours teaching students how to express their feelings in non-destructive ways, and have done my best to instill the values of integrity and respect into each of my students.

Here’s the thing: you, dear celebrities, are making my job harder.

Now, it’s clearly not all of you. It’s not even the majority of you. I’m fairly certain I could google dozens upon dozens of names of celebrities and not immediately be linked to articles depicting that person’s latest destructive shenanigan. For those of you who don’t feature on my Facebook newsfeed or CNN’s front page for negative behaviors, thank you. Seriously.

But the problem is that some of you have figured out that if you have enough money and enough people know your name, you can be immune to the rules, whether they’re laws or just rules of general common decency.

Today I read two articles that disturbed me. The first discussed how Ray Rice could be reinstated in the NFL in a matter of weeks. You remember Ray Rice. The man who was videotaped delivering a knock-out punch to his then-fiancee? Were he just an ordinary person, he would have been arrested and charged with battery. But he’s famous, so that didn’t happen. That’s old news though. How about Joseph Randle, the Dallas Cowboys running back who just became a spokesman for MeUndies – after he attempted to shoplift underwear last week? Yes. Underwear. The article reports that he makes roughly $500,000. Public record will show you that my annual salary is $35,345. Never once have I debated pocketing a package of panties and scooting out Target’s front door. If I did, I’m positive I’d be waiting arraignment, not profiting from a decision to break the law. He already makes more than 14 times my annual salary. And now he’ll make even more.

I’m sorry, can I just have a second to freak out? 14 times my annual salary. 14 times!! I mean, I’m a teacher so I didn’t take my job for the great pay, but seriously. Come on. Buy your own underwear.

Let’s shift focus though, because I could very easily get stuck here and I really did intend for this to be a short letter. I know you’re busy and I am too.

I understand and value the 1st Amendment. I mean, it’s what allows me to write this letter to you. You also have the right to express yourself, and boy-howdy have some of you taken that right seriously! I mean, Miley Cyrus really went for it at the VMAs a few years ago. You could argue that it’s a parent’s job to censor what their child is exposed to, and you’d be right. But what am I supposed to tell a parent whose child has heard the first line of Jason Derulo’s song “Wiggle” belted across the kindergarten playground for the 3rd time in as many weeks? Just as you cannot control who hears your music, I cannot control who repeats it.

How, then, am I to teach my students that respect, integrity, and kindness are crucial values when they have so many examples to the contrary not only readily available to see, but that the people who make these choices are often rewarded for their bad behaviors?

There’s a lesson that I teach my kindergarteners that I think pretty much everyone needs to learn (sometimes, myself included). It’s really quite simple: you are not the most important person in the world; other people matter too. Oh, celebrities, if you truly understood how much my tiny, innocent kindergarteners looked up to you! I am not asking you to change who you are, I’m asking you to be the best version of yourself that you can be.

You reproduce who you are. Be worth reproducing.