Saturday, February 6, 2016

A Letter to the Invisible Teacher

Not feeling the teacher appreciation?  Feeling invisible?  Here is one teacher's story with tips and inspiration for finding your own light to shine by.

Dear Invisible Teacher,

I'm sharing some honest talk with you today because I have something on my mind, but first let me tell you a story:

It is a bright spring day and I am standing in front of my math class teaching something really important, I'm sure. I hear a knock at my door and there stands three suit-and-tie, skirt-and-heels, smiling-stranger faces.  They come into my classroom and stand next to me and start addressing my students.  They tell them what a wonderful teacher I am and how happy they are to inform me and my students that I have been nominated for a local teaching award.  I am so surprised and a little teary eyed.  I happen to glance down at the paperwork Stranger #1 is holding in her hand as she is beaming at my class and there, in black and white, is another teacher's name.  Another teacher...  in my school...  with the same first name.  A lot of thoughts run through my head.  Oh my gosh!  This award isn't for me!  Do I tell her now, in front of my class?  Do I just not tell her and accept it and tell them later?  Do I wait until she is done and then privately explain to them as they leave?  

It sounds like one of those bad teacher dreams we all have before the first day of school, but in this case it wasn't a dream.  It really happened...  to me.

I turned to stranger #1 and said, "I'm sorry, but I have to interrupt.  I think you have the wrong teacher."  I explained what my name is and that the award was meant for someone else.  The Three Strangers were embarrassed. I was embarrassed. My students were confused.  I tried to laugh it off, but still, to this day about 10 years later, it hurts.   It was an awful, awful moment, that moment I went from feeling recognized and valued to being a mistake.

I bring this up now, because its award season.  Not just the Grammies and the Oscars and all those other Hollywood ones, but it is also the season of teacher awards.  National awards, state awards, and district awards.

Awards were announced at our school this week and, while I couldn't be more happy for the recipients at our school (They are totally deserving and amazing teachers!), it always brings back that moment when the award almost went to me.

I've been teaching for over 16 years and have never been formally recognized for my dedication and hard work.  I could go into all of the different reasons why I think I deserve an award, but that would be stupid because we all deserve an award.  There are millions of teachers in the world and we all work hard and give our hearts to our job and our students.  We don't choose this career for the accolades, which is a good thing because most of us will never get a plaque with our name inscribed on the front.

I wanted to share this with you, because as teachers, we can sometimes feel invisible in our own little classroom worlds.  Even though you are at school early.  You leave late.  You run after school clubs or sit on committees.  You take on more than your share of responsibility...  even though you care and cry for your students, it may feel like no one notices and when you start to feel like that, you start to lose your momentum, your fire, your passion for teaching.  You start to fade.

So how do you get your spark back?

Here are some ideas:

1.  Remember why you chose this career in the first place.   Find joy in your students.  Smile with them, laugh with them, play with them.  Venture out to recess and swing on the swings. Build bonds with these little treasures.  Their joy will rub off on you.

2.  Remember that you may not be the only one feeling invisible.  Spread some joy.  I plan on putting some cards in staff members' mailboxes, maybe buy coffee for my team, sneak heart sticky-note pads to staff members, anything that lets my colleagues know that they are seen and they are important to me.  Make other people feel noticed and they will spread the love.

3.  Remember that, in the end, this is just a job.  Put that bag of take-home-work aside and have some fun.   Build up your relationships with others and with yourself.  Go on a date with your significant other.  Ask a friend to go shopping and buy a new pair of shoes (that always brings me joy!)  Go see a movie by yourself. Take your dog for a walk.   Do things non-school related that bring you joy.

4.  Pursue your other interests.  Find another Tribe.  Take a class or join a club.  Sometimes it is nice to take the teacher hat off and just be the student.  Let someone else run the show.  Let someone give you positive feedback and tell you you're doing a great job.  I especially love taking art classes because, for the most part, you can be creative and there is no "wrong" way.  If you have a hobby or another interest, find people who share that interest.  Cultivate relationships in that circle by participating in events, Facebook groups, conferences, and get-togethers.  A couple of years ago I started creating and selling resources on TeacherPayTeachers.  Now, every time a buyer leaves comments on a product letting me know that I saved them time, helped them teach a difficult concept, or made learning engaging for their students its like getting a little award and my light shines a little brighter.

And last but not least...
5.  Have your own awards ceremony.  On that terrible day, so long ago,  I tried to laugh it off, but my students must have known how disappointed I was.  Later they gave me cards with their own versions of the award drawn on the front.  The words written inside were kind and compassionate. I keep a stash of cards and notes from former students and families.  I get them out every now and then and read them.  They are uplifting and funny, and fill my heart with joy and my eyes with tears.  They remind me that I matter to who matters most.
Not feeling the teacher appreciation?  Feeling invisible?  Here is one teacher's story and with tips and inspiration for finding your own light to shine by.

So, Dear Teacher, during this awards season remember that you may not get the trophy, but you've already won the prize.  You are loved by your students and cared for by your colleagues.  You are not invisible. And when you start to feel yourself fade, shine a light on yourself and be your own biggest cheerleader!

With Joy and Love,

Interested in DIY gifts for colleagues and friends?  Check out my Pinterest board:


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  2. Wow! I can only imagine how awkward that experience was! I Know you are an outstanding teacher and I appreciate you sharing this story! I love the tips you shared as it is so important to reward ourselves. I used to work in an environment where I would daily remind myself and my colleagues that "Adults shouldn't need positive reinforcement and praise," but when you do what we do and there are so many opportunities for people to tell you to knit-pick every decision you make, it does make a difference to feel like someone is noticing all of your hard work! I think even sharing the love within your own grade level is a sweet and important way to take care of one another. It doesn't always come from the higher-ups, but teachers can definitely support each other.

  3. Wonderful blog.Thank you so much for sharing this post.