How A Child Describes You

The measure of your real success is one you cannot spend– it’s the way a child describes you when talking to a friend.   -Martin Buxbaum (Words to Warm a Teacher’s Heart)

This notion by Buxbaum is not one that has always brought me delight and comfort.

My first year teaching was in a Title 1 school in Texas and I was way out of my element. I hesitated about starting college 4 years prior and weeks before fall semester I filled out all my apps and started rushing to get enrolled in community college. I was stressed beyond belief. My Auntie Kim who was a teacher and my mentor just laughed. “Marissa, look at this way. They want your money. Even though you’re getting a late start, you’ll get in.” She was right. I got in. Her and Uncle Bob laughed a great deal later when they told my husband, “Back before you met her, she almost didn’t go to college. She wanted to work at a bank and we said, ‘wait a minute, let’s talk!'” Brian told them, “Thank you for talking to her.” I always loved writing and I was a creative free spirit with no career ambition. I just wanted to get a paycheck until I got married then live a quiet life at home.

Basically I was an introvert.

Somehow though, I knew there was something I was suppose to do and it involved college. I was very nervous about starting without much of a plan but I kept remembering what a friend told me.

“Psalm 119:105 says, ‘Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.’ Well when you hold a lamp out in front of you, you can’t see very far ahead until you take a step forward. With each step, you see a little more. So you have to keep walking forward and looking into God’s word for Him to reveal more of His plan to you.”

In the months that followed I felt that I should be an English Major, though I didn’t know if I would be a writer, office aide, teacher, etc. Then in the year that followed I figured out that I was meant to be in the classroom. Then I got cold feet several times because being in front of everyone and finding out what people thought of me was way out of my comfort zone.

So when I began my first job as a Remedial Reading Teacher, in a Title 1 school, I wasn’t much older than the kids I was teaching but we were a lot different. I like to joke that I’ve never cool in my life but it’s true. I didn’t want to be their friends and I needed them to respect my authority but they hated authority. I’m pretty sure they hated me. With the behaviors I had to manage in order to get the job done and teach them something of value, I didn’t want to know what they said about me. There are some situations when you need a thicker than thick skin but my nature is to wear my heart on my sleeve and opinions can hurt.

From day 1, I was hurt. I was hurt by the opinions of students and an administrator.

Then something started to shift.

I got to know them better. I started to figure out how to be productive with them. I started to learn how to manage my class better. While the early weeks were full of tension, the later were lighter. Not every student responded to me but in time more and more of them did. Then in time I overheard kids say things about me that I wasn’t unhappy to hear.

Some of the uplifting things I’ve heard in no particular order:

“I never liked reading until she introduced that book to me.”

“I’m going to miss her next year.”

“This is the class I come to school for.”

“I want to tell you guys about what I learned from Mrs. Matsuzaki yesterday…”

“When Mrs. Matsu first introduced us to Charles Dickens through A Christmas Carol, I was sure I would hate it. Now I’ve read virtually every book he ever wrote!”

“I made it into AP English because of Mrs. Matsuzaki.”

For every compliment I’ve received whether directly or indirectly, I feel like I’ve also received 5-10 exclamations about how much me and my classes “SUCKED”. Then I reflect on the kind things so many kids have said to their friends and family and realize how sincere those words are. Those are not the words spoken out of frustration during an assignment.

Often in life the things you do well are not shouted on the roof tops in a moment, but they are remembered for a lifetime–and that is a real measure of success. Keep that in mind if you are a new teacher, or a tired one ;-), or a MOM!

For more tips on reaching out to Reluctant Readers, check out these books:

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