Friday, September 9, 2016

What Really Matters

Ten years ago my friend Mary shared an activity she did with her students. Well, really it was an assignment for her students' parents. In a million words or less, she asked them, tell me about your child! Well... I know an awesome idea when I see it, and so I sent the same request home. Turns out, parents have a quite a bit to say about their kids: the replies that we received were some of the most heart-warming writing I have ever read.

For many reasons, I have not repeated that activity. Times change, and the focus of education has famously followed. As a teacher I have been pushed and pulled into so many initiatives and requirements that I know I have dropped many valuable things along the way. I guess this parents' homework was one of them.

Back in 2006, electronic communication and the Internet was still catching on, and we asked the parents to do their work on paper. Oh, I'm sure a twig or two gave its life so that our request could be fulfilled, but the upside is that as I was going through my files last week before my new students arrived, I found one stuffed full of letters about kids who are just turning 21, adults themselves now.

Despite several initiatives and requirements scratching at the door, I took the folder and a yearbook over to a table by the window and I looked at each student's picture as I read the words of their parents.

So many of them started the same way:

What can I say about... 

And then continued:

He has natural curiosity
She likes vegetables
He is sweet and happy
I was just sixteen when she was born
He is kind and compassionate
She has a thrill to tell stories
He learns better by doing
As the oldest child, she has a tendency to be bossy

And they ended like this:

Thanks for giving me the chance to tell you about my daughter. 
Please push him-- he needs it! 
I'm not sure if I did my million words, but I tried! My hand is tired!
His dad has been away a lot the last four years to Iraq and Afghanistan. 
He is a little bit Dr. Doolittle's push me-pull me, a little bit monkey.
I want to tell you more about my daughter, but I don't want you to get to bored.
I want the very best for my son. I didn't finish high school, but I hope he will.

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