My sister, Carol, teaches fifth grade. Her kids are never easy – a mix of cultures, education levels, a range of disabilities and behavioral issues, few parents are involved – education these days is a mess. We hear it all the time, but I don’t know that any of us can fully understand what we ask teachers to do if we aren’t in the classroom. And the thing of it is? Few of us have the courage to walk into a classroom and offer to help.
I’m so proud of Carol and the huge amount of herself she pours into those kids. They struggle, she encourages. They fight her off, she keeps loving them. They pout, sulk, scream, rant, rave – she stays steadfast. They steal from her and lie to her and Carol returns every day to remind them that they get to choose between living a life of integrity and one of shame.
The kids know that when she sits them down for another “Ms. Greenwood lecture,” that she is teaching them how to live in the big world out there. They might moan and groan, but even when she isn’t teaching them ‘reading, writing, and ‘rithmatic,’ they’re receiving important lessons from her.
I can’t be in the classroom with her, but I get to be the ‘fun’ part of her kids’ year. I sew up little pouches at the beginning of the year, then Carol and I fill them with pencils and things that the kids can use and have fun with. For Pi Day (March 14), I delivered a case of moon pies to Carol. On Star Wars Day (May 4 – May the 4th be with you), I delivered Star Wars bookmarks. If something special comes to the school that requires funds for the kids to purchase something, Carol and I make those funds available.
This year, we read about a kindness board that used post-it notes. I sent a huge stack of colorful post-its. The kids write kind things on those notes and hang them on the board. They get to see kindness every day.
One thing Carol does on a regular basis is ask her kids to write thank you cards. See … bigger learning than just the basics.
She handed a stack of them to me yesterday. I can tell that she talks about me in the classroom. They know I’m an author. They know I love cats and Star Wars. Those awesome kids integrated what they knew of me and what Carol reminded them I’d given to the classroom over the year into each note.
Yeah. I cried.
Now, while you all are going to try to tell me how great it is that I do this for her classroom, that’s not the point of this story.
You all know teachers. Don’t ask them what they need help with. Nobody ever responds to that.
Offer to do the crazy things – like moon pies and bookmarks, opening day gifts to help the kids get started with a bang. Buy a package of fun-colored paper for the teacher to use. Heck, buy the teacher a gross of pencils and an electric pencil sharpener. Give the teacher an Amazon gift card to buy extra supplies for kids who don’t have everything they need. Sew, knit or crochet gift bags or silly stuffed animals. Buy supplies for a creative bulletin board. There are so many things you can do.
But I promise that though teachers desperately need so much help and so many things, they’ve learned to do a great job with those kids – without those things. You have to find creative ways to offer to help them.
I need to get sewing on this year’s first-day bags. These little thank you notes spur me into wanting to do more and more for Carol’s classroom. As long as she is teaching, I get to be part of these kids’ life and I love it.
Support your teacher friends. If you don’t have a close friend who teaches, make one. Be creative. They need you. Kids need you. We’re all in this together.