As the school year creeps to a close, it’s really easy to think that absolutely nothing worked, look at what remains to be graded and fight back feelings of inadequacy, and think that summer really is never, ever going to arrive.
When I work with pre-service teachers, I encourage them to keep every scrap of good news, be it a Post-It that has a quotation of what a perceptive student said, notes from parents or students, events that evoked positive emotions. Put all those pieces into a file folder and label it your “Feel Good File (FGF).” Put it in a location that is easily accessible (the location of it is critical; it must be easy to put one’s hands on on days when teaching is particularly brutal) and then, on days when you need a boost (we all have those days: lessons fail, administrators demand what they demand, students are, well, students), open the FGF. Read through it. Reread as much as is required to remember that we do know some things. Repeat as necessary.
I’ve been cleaning up my classroom now that my seniors have departed and I have been fluffing my own FGF. For the first time in my career, I have an abundance of thank you notes! Seriously, this graduating class was the most grateful group of young people, and someone taught them the importance of penning a thank you note (my heart rejoices for what they’ve proven is not a lost art). Students even returned after graduation to give me notes. Talk about feeling appreciated! I read their kind words (some from parents, too), and tucked them away, because I know there are going to be PLENTY days in the future when I’m not feeling so optimistic. I can just open the folder and remember. I can feel good that yup, on a good day, I’m not doing a bad job.
Curating a FGF is a perfect end-of-the-year activity because it helps to gain perspective. Sure, the papers, late work and final tasks remain, but taking a moment to reread the folder allows me a moment of joy.
Some of the latest entries into my own FGF. Two graduating seniors were asked about their favorite teachers. One said:
Dr Parker: Dr. Parker treated me, and my fellow classmates, like an adult my sophomore year — her class challenged me more than I had ever before experienced, both socially and academically. It was incredibly rewarding. I began to learn from Dr. Parker as much outside the classroom as I did inside — we collaborated with a community organization to facilitate workshops on race/class at CRLS, and we worked together to bring more discussions about these pertinent issues into the classroom (through programs and storytelling). I found myself constantly inspired and challenged. She always said, “I’m always down to start a revolution!” And I guess, after three more years of a personal relationship, I am, too.
Dr. Parker a.k.a. DParkz. Dr. Parker gave me my first really bad grade, and then taught me that that was okay. Her English 10 class was the hardest class I took at Rindge (besides maybe Calculus) and her Lit class was no joke either. She taught me about the growth mindset instead of the fixed mindset, which was a big deal for me. We had the best conversations in her class, because she allowed her students to argue against her, and draw their own conclusions, which I think is really rare in a teacher. I read the best books I have ever read in her class. But best of all, one day in Lit we all brought in cupcakes and tea and we had a book talk with cupcakes and tea! It was a dream come true.
It’s amazing what kids remember (tea and cupcakes? that was a spur-of-the-moment decision, too!). Indeed, though, their kind words and their gratitude leave me feeling pretty darn good.