While all of my students have shaped me as a teacher and as a person, a few of my former students have left an indelible mark on my heart. The lessons they taught me are not new, but there’s something about seeing a truth lived out, in action…. and by a child, that really makes it hit home for me. Maybe one of these lessons will resonate with you, too.
1. Use Positive Self-Talk
Bella’s story is one of my favorites. It began years ago when Bella was in Kindergarten, when I walked by her table and commented on the lively colors in her painting. Bella put down her paint brush, looked up at me and said very seriously, “I know. I’m doing fantastic!” Since then, this quote has become a standard response in my home when anyone receives a compliment!
But Bella’s positive affirmations weren’t only recited when things were going good. In moments of distress, Bella could be heard quietly repeating to herself, “I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay.” When my students say really cute things like this, I always try to share them with their parents. Bella’s mom told me that they never taught Bella to do this, it’s just a habit she adopted on her own. Now, thanks to Bella, I’m more aware of the way I ’talk to myself’, and I stop myself when what I’m hearing isn’t constructive. The things we say to ourselves really do make a difference!
2. Be Grateful
Cole stands out as the most appreciate student I ever had. He would always smile at me when he walked into the room. He said “Thank you!” every time I handed him his supplies. He said “Thank you!” when I collected his artwork at the end of class. He said “Thank you!” when art class was over. If he saw me in the hall, he said, “Thank you for teaching us Art, Mrs. Trowbridge!” Now granted, this kid loved art, but he did this with all of his teachers, with full eye contact and total sincerity in his voice. He really meant it and you could just feel it.
Gratefulness has to do with ‘appreciating benefits received’, and we all receive countless benefits every day, if we just stay tuned in to recognizing them. Gratefulness goes beyond just being polite – when we express our thanks in ways that others can really feel, like Cole did. Sincere appreciation is contagious to kids and adults alike, and we can all help spread it!
3. Be the Best Version of YOU that You Can Be
You could say that Garrett marched to the beat of his own drummer. He was an outside-the-box thinker who saw the world in a different way. A less confident kid might have had trouble fitting in, but not Garrett. Instead, he embraced his different-ness. He owned it. And as a result, everyone loved him. Garrett didn’t try to be like anyone else, he just tried to be the best version of ‘Garrett’ he could be.
Garrett believed that God created each person to be unique for a reason, and that trying to be like anyone else would be missing the whole point. I continue to need this reminder not to measure myself against others, but only against my own personal best. Garrett’s contentment with just being himself inspired everyone around him to be themselves, too.
4. Embrace Mistakes
Some students struggle to get started on projects, but not Nathan. He never procrastinated, but always dove right in. He was usually the first one finished, but not because he rushed through anything. He just ‘went for it’ without hesitation in everything he did.
This didn’t mean things always worked out for him. When he made mistakes, he would go back and fix them. Sometimes he’d even start over, knowing what he needed to do differently. Mistakes didn’t derail him, he just used them as opportunities to grow, quickly changing course and applying what he learned. Now when I get stuck on something, I like to think of how Nathan would tackle a similar task and it always helps me get going again!
5. Rise Above Your Circumstances
I won’t name a specific student for this one, because there have been so many. Over the years, I’ve seen countless students deal with broken families, divorce, abuse, physical disabilities, having a parent in jail, losing a parent to cancer, fighting cancer themselves, and much more. It’s interesting to see how different kids respond differently to adversity…. while some are completely knocked off course, others seem to become even more resilient, motivated to go on and live an exceptional life.
We all have to live with some circumstances that we wouldn’t choose, but what seems to make the greatest difference is how we respond to our hardships. Watching kids go through much harder things than I ever will has reminded me to keep everything in perspective and not let negative circumstances define me.
So, sometimes we teach our students and sometimes they teach us! As teachers, we’re in a unique position to influence our students, but we should always be open to their influence on us, too!
Which of these lessons are most helpful to you?
What lessons have you learned from your students?