On this this Thanksgiving Day, I began to think about what I'm thankful for as a teacher. I decided to not think about what I'm not thankful for... but of course, what I'm not thankful for becomes obvious by omission.
I'm thankful for parents who invest in their children so that they come to school ready to learn-- not merely compliant, which is a bit different, but really ready to learn. I appreciate the investments you have made in your children-- investments that make your students not merely a pleasure to have in class, but a challenge as well, because sometimes I must scramble to stay just ahead of them.
I'm thankful for students who come to school already primed to learn: ready to enjoy reading, already full of curiosity about a variety of subjects, already thinking about their futures with hope and expectation. You make my job easier, but you also make my job fun. Your enthusiasm gives me energy. Your ability to learn well challenges me to take you to the next level. Your insights enable me to see something new in a novel or story I've read 60 times. Your writing makes me understand the world a little better.
I'm thankful as well, though, for students who come to school not quite ready to learn, because although I would never wish on any student the circumstances that make a child not want to learn and value education, although you are a challenge for me, you represent one of the reasons I got into teaching in the first place. You give me the opportunity to see someone love reading a book for the first time, an opportunity to see someone discovering for the first time that writing doesn't have to be a chore, that learning and thinking are worth doing whether they are being graded or tested or not. You help me see the world through new eyes.
I'm thankful for administrators-- and believe it or not, they still exist-- who encourage me to be creative in the classroom, who realize that creativity is not just an act of teacher self-indulgence at students' expense, but the act of teaching itself at its highest level. Being a creative teacher involves seeing where students are now, having a vision for where they could be, and creating a bridge between those two places. When you allow me to be creative, you are really allowing me to build bridges between where students are now and where they have to potential to go, between what they know now and what they can know, between their current selves and their future selves. Being creative in the classroom is not just a self indulgence; it is a calling. By encouraging my creativity rather than stomping on it, you enable me to be the teacher I was meant to be. By encouraging my creativity, you make me happy to go to class each day, you make it possible for my students to cross the bridges that we will build together.
I'm thankful for my teachers (Mr. Jacobs, Mrs. Gottung, Mrs. Bronson, Mrs. Hughes, Dr. Farrell, Dr. Smith, Coach, Mrs. Gilbert, and Dr. Wright-- among many many others), who showed me the way before I'd even stumbled into teaching by accident. I'm thankful for the teachers who had a hand in making me a teacher (especially Rev. Steve Burt and Marianna Lawler). I'm thankful for the teacher-writers who mentored me from afar with their books (Jeff Wilhelm, Michael W. Smith, Thomas Newkirk, ReLeah Lent, Nancy Atwell... among many others), many of whom I have now had the privilege to meet and get to know.
I'm thankful that I have had the chance to share my own ideas about teaching through my comic strip (thanks to Nick Klasne and Ronald Williamson for running a local comic strip in your newspaper) and through my teacher books (thanks forever to Gloria Pipkin for "discovering" me).
I'm thankful for my former students, who now number in the hundreds, but especially those of you who come back years later to tell me you still remember my class with fondness, and especially those who remember some of the specific experiences you learned from (like Helena and Calila, who still remember my proofreading epic "Genre Jumpers" from sixth grade even though you are now in eleventh).
I'm thankful that I stumbled into teaching when I did, because if I hadn't, a lot of the very best teaching ideas would never have seen the light of day.
I'm thankful that my job represents the place where, as Frederick Buechner put it, my great joy meets the worlds' great need. I'm thankful that I am able to pass my great joy-- the fun, usefulness, and power of reading and writing-- to students. I'm thankful to the people who help me and encourage me to do so.