A lesson in ownership from my students

“Parting is such sweet sorrow.” “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” “One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish.” One of those quotes is from Shakespeare, and two of them are from Dr. Seuss. I’ll let you guess who said what and which one has nothing to do with the rest of what I’m about to write. So, when it comes to letting go of your betta fish … never mind. Seriously, though, I did have to say goodbye to a very special group of young people recently.

Teaching can frustrate the hell out of you, especially if you actually care about doing a good job and making a difference in people’s lives. Do our students know about the extra hours spent lesson planning, taking care of administrative duties, and staying up to date with professional development? They probably have no clue unless you bitch about it in class, on social media, or on your blog (Hi kids! Please disregard the swear words). Even if they know, do they really care? They have to worry about keeping their grades up and their hormones under control. But if you show them you give a damn through your effort and your willingness to connect with them, an amazing thing can happen: they reciprocate.

One morning I was working in my classroom all by myself, and as Winnie the Pooh would say, “I felt a rumbly in my tumbly.” It wasn’t hunger, though. I looked up at the clock, saw that I had five minutes before class started, figured that was enough time to led the odor dissipate, and let one rip. Not a minute later, two of my boys from the baseball team walked in early. The jig was up. They greeted me, sat down, and one said to the other, “Dude, did you fart?” His friend claimed innocence, and neither one of them dared to accuse the teacher. I was going to let it pass (as it were), but then I thought to myself, “What am I teaching these young men about honesty and accountability if I don’t own up to this?” I confessed, we all laughed, and one of the boys said, “It’s all right; I do it all the time.” I was touched by his effort to spare my feelings and slightly concerned about his diet.

Hopefully I taught them more valuable lessons than “whoever smelled it may not have dealt it,” but I know I’ll never forget that moment. On a more poignant note, I’ll always remember attending prom on my students’ invitation. As an SAT/ACT instructor working for a separate company who only spent an hour a day with them and who had only known them for a few months, that gesture meant the world to me. I told them as much, and I was just as honest with them when I let them know that I had a job opportunity I could not pass up and would not be able to finish the semester with them. On our last day together I told them how much I appreciated their hard work and enthusiasm and how much I was going to miss them. They gave me two separate cards: one thanking me for everything I taught them and another congratulating me on my new job. We hugged and exchanged expressions of “I love you.”

I started my new job the next morning with a text from one of my students that read “I hope you have a great first day.” This is why I love teaching and counseling. If you’re lucky enough to spend time with people and make genuine connections, all parties involved are impacted. Students learn from their teachers, students learn from each other, and we teachers learn from our students. I’ve heard from multiple students that they love me because I’m “real.” That’s great to hear, but it’s also a lot to live up to. Guess I have to keep owning my farts.

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