I make a difference

I've posted the link to a performance of the poem below before, and it's so powerful.  If you haven't seen it, you should click on the link and watch it.  It is so true of good teachers.  And so much what I need to hear today, along with a few other things that are reminding me what really matters.

Why? The most superficial things, really.  We're stressing this Christmas.  I don't want to put our Christmas on credit cards, but I couldn't anyway because they're close to maxed out.  We make a decent living.  We have good jobs.  But, like many people, money is tight.  We're really hoping for Jeff to get a Christmas bonus, and from the rumor we heard, it sounds like it'll be about what I make in a week.  You know, as an overpaid teacher.

Meanwhile, my Christmas bonus from our district this year was a book.  And that's more than most years.  A high school friend posted last night on Facebook that her class got her an iPod, and all day I've walked by classrooms where the teacher's desks are piled with gifts from students.  The typical makeup of my classroom is a majority of the kids are from disadvantaged families.  They don't have money to spend on their child's teacher for Christmas.  And it's not about the gifts.  It's not.  I get that.  But it's a kind of cruddy, left-out feeling.

So, that was my frame of mind coming in to work today.  Looking forward to seeing my kids, excited about the holiday, but feeling a little down.  And what a big baby I am, because I got a couple of great reminders this morning about why I do my job, why I love my job, and just how liberally I'm compensated for my work.
  • A visit from a parent and her 4th grade son, who was in my class at the end of kindergarten and for first grade.  They wanted to show me their family pictures, and she told me that he insisted that they give me a picture.  It's been three years since he was in my class.
  • The hugs and waves I get from former students every day when I pass them in the cafeteria on my way back from my lunch.
  • The concentration on my kids' faces as they worked on the Christmas wreaths they made for residents at a local group home.
  • The delighted exclamations as they opened their Christmas presents (it always amazes me what a "big deal" a $1 coloring book and a box of crayons can be).
  • This email, that was waiting for me when I got to work: "Kate-Pat yourself on the back. Your kids improved at a higher rate than the target rate" (on the screening tool we use on the whole school three times a year).

If you look at that graph, the top line shows the progress that the general ed population of students has made on the skill of sounding out nonsense words.  The middle line is the target improvement.  The bottom line is my class.  They're still below level, but they've made a huge jump in progress.  They're very close to target, on this skill, anyway.

That's some great validation there.  Seems like year after year we work like crazy in class, only to see meager improvements on these tests.  This year, I can see all of that work coming to fruition, not just on the tests (though it's wonderful to see the objective evidence!), but in their daily work in the classroom.  My friend can keep her new iPod.  This news will have me singing all through Christmas break.

What Teachers Make, or
Objection Overruled, or
If things don't work out, you can always go to law school

By Taylor Mali
He says the problem with teachers is, "What's a kid going to learn
from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher?"
He reminds the other dinner guests that it's true what they say about
Those who can, do; those who can't, teach.

I decide to bite my tongue instead of his
and resist the temptation to remind the other dinner guests
that it's also true what they say about lawyers.

Because we're eating, after all, and this is polite company.

"I mean, you¹re a teacher, Taylor," he says.
"Be honest. What do you make?"

And I wish he hadn't done that
(asked me to be honest)
because, you see, I have a policy
about honesty and ass-kicking:
if you ask for it, I have to let you have it.

You want to know what I make?

I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could.
I can make a C+ feel like a Congressional medal of honor
and an A- feel like a slap in the face.
How dare you waste my time with anything less than your very best.

I make kids sit through 40 minutes of study hall
in absolute silence. No, you may not work in groups.
No, you may not ask a question.
Why won't I let you get a drink of water?
Because you're not thirsty, you're bored, that's why.

I make parents tremble in fear when I call home:
I hope I haven't called at a bad time,
I just wanted to talk to you about something Billy said today.
Billy said, "Leave the kid alone. I still cry sometimes, don't you?"
And it was the noblest act of courage I have ever seen.

I make parents see their children for who they are
and what they can be.

You want to know what I make?
I make kids wonder,
I make them question.
I make them criticize.
I make them apologize and mean it.
I make them write, write, write.
And then I make them read.
I make them spell definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful, definitely
over and over and over again until they will never misspell
either one of those words again.
I make them show all their work in math.
And hide it on their final drafts in English.
I make them understand that if you got this (brains)
then you follow this (heart) and if someone ever tries to judge you
by what you make, you give them this (the finger).

Let me break it down for you, so you know what I say is true:
I make a goddamn difference! What about you?


  1. I wish we had more teachers like that.

    I had one when I took English 3C, 11th grade. Her name was Joyce Hendrickson, and I still see her about once a year when I'm at Target for some reason. She was the real deal.

  2. Well Said! You do a job that I would love to have done, but wasn't smart enough to choose that option, and clearly you are well loved. Merry Christmas!! I have been UP and down this week - currently down, maybe tomorrow will be up? Holidays... they make you THINK too much!

  3. You and all the other teachers out there that care make a HUGE difference. Thank you!

  4. yes! Love this. Well said. and you're right...the progress your students have made are a perfect "pieces coming together" story! :)


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