Something very unusual happened to me yesterday. I was teaching chemistry in my second period class when an office aide brought a package into my room and handed it to me. My first response was, “I haven’t ordered anything.” She responded that the package was addressed to me. When I looked at the address, it was indeed my name on the label. I accepted the package, and my curious students asked me what was in it. I held up the box, and in big, bold letters was spelled out “HERSHEY’S“. I opened it to find several cards, and a FIVE POUND Hershey bar. I was the surprise recipient of a “Thank You” gift from a teacher and her students at Hershey High School in Hershey, Pennsylvania. And I was VERY moved. Of course, I also had to defend the chocolate bar in a room full of hungry teenagers.
Most teachers who have been in the classroom for even a few years have received cards and other mementos of appreciation from students, parents and fellow staff members. What I want new teachers to know is how important it is to keep all of it. Get one of those Tupper-ware boxes, and every time you are the recipient of such a kindness, bring it home and put it in the box. With so much communication done by email these days, consider printing out those special ones and including them as well. I’ve lost a lot of good memories to the “delete” button or crashed hard drives.
Some of the things that I’ve received over the years won’t fit in the box. My home office is in part decorated with items given me by students. On the desk is a flower pot decorated by a student who passed away far too young. Above my desk hangs a framed picture from “The Lunch Bunch” – a group of students who ate lunch in my room most days during their high school years. Added to their pictures are things that I have been known to say in class. It is precious to me.
As for that “gratitude box”, there won’t seem to be much in it at first, and the contents will all be fresh in your memory. As the years pass, you may look through the box less-and-less, but you will need it’s contents more when the time does come to sit down and look through it.
I’m not going to pretend that teaching is the hardest profession one could pick. The hardest job, as I often tell my students, is a job that you don’t like. I’ve had jobs that were physically much tougher than teaching. I’ve done jobs that I genuinely did not like. But the fact that I love my profession does not preclude difficult times. Every teacher has had dark days, and when those times strike me, that is when I know it’s time to take a trip to the closet and pull out the box. Great Memories flood out of the box like a genie escaping a bottle, and the contents provide me with the perspective of years of joy in this profession rather than the distortion of isolated moments of struggle.
Now, I’m not going to put the Hershey bar in the box. My daughter is petitioning me with ideas about how to consume the chocolate. But I will save the cards and the wrapper, and place them in the box. These latest residents of the gratitude box will take their place with 27 years of memories and hopefully, many more to come.