school · writing

How to really appreciate your kids’ teachers this week (and all year long).

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Y’all. It’s May-hem. May-member. May-day. May the force of common sense be with you.

And Pinterest crafting isn’t in my wheelhouse this month. (Or ever, honestly. So if you love some sanding and painting and cutesy font notecards this post is not for you, and please, sell me your services next year because I have the black thumb equivalent of gift giving.)

I love my kids’ teachers. LOVE them. One math teacher gave us her cell so we could text if my middle schooler is on the verge of fraction-induced tears. My son’s kindergarten teacher has a son with the same name as mine AND THE SAME BIRTHDAY 10 YEARS REMOVED so she basically treats him like he’s hers. These are good, good people teaching my kids how to navigate Google and divide negative numbers.

However.

I can’t be all thanks a latte because you helped me grow into one smart cookie since you’re such a sharp teacher.

(For the record, I do appreciate the puns.)

Between my four kids we have TWENTY TEACHERS.

We’re all barely surviving May as it is. Teacher Appreciation week should be moved to September because HALLELUJAH! SCHOOL IS BACK IN SESSION AND WE REALLY APPRECIATE IT.

Also, teachers really need supplies. And support. And extra snacks because some of us (hangs head in shame) can’t be trusted to read the snack schedule.

So if you want to appreciate your kids’ teacher without feeling like a crap mom when everyone else (i.e. half my Insta feed) is cranking out adorable-ness on their Cricket, the best things to do are simply done all year long.

I taught school for years. Middle school mind you.

And this is what I appreciated:

  • Boxes of expo markers
  • Extra supplies for a kid in need
  • Cases of Lysol wipes
  • New books for my classroom
  • Kids who came to school on time
  • Kids who were picked up from extracurricular activities on time
  • Kids who said “Yes, ma’am” and “No, ma’am” and “please” and “thank you”
  • Ink cartridges
  • Tissues
  • Agenda signed
  • Homework done
  • When you have a problem and you come to the me before the principal
  • When your kid is dressed appropriately for school so I don’t have to measure their shorts with a ruler
  • When you see me in the grocery store and you say, “My kid really loves your class.”
  • When you see me at church and you say, “My kid really loves that book you made him read.”

According to my kids, what their teachers really want is:

  • Quiet
  • Good listeners
  • Mint chocolate candy
  • Pepper

Here’s what one third-grade teacher told me she wanted:

  • Parents to read her newsletter
  • But she’ll take a gift card

Here’s the thing. For years, teaching was my job. I didn’t need a reward for doing it because it’s the job I chose and the job I loved/hated and like parenting—my days were endlessly long but those years flew by.

I have a box full of teacher ornaments and magnets. They’re buried beneath a stack of letters from kids telling me my class was their favorite. I’ve long ago spent the Starbucks cards and broken the personalized tumbler (blame: toddlers) and lost half the pair of earrings.

But those parents who raised up respectful kids? Lovable kids? Those are the parents who showed appreciation everyday because they recognized teaching is hard and kids are harder and it’s a calling and a profession that commands respect—those are the parents and kids I remember.

And these days, in the grocery store, I go out of my way to speak to them.

P.S. That picture is from that time my students had a “stick it to ’em” day and stuck post-its all over our doors. BEST GIFT EVER.

P.P.S. In case you didn’t know (but your probably do) I quit teaching to write books and have this fourth baby.My debut, Still Waters, released last fall and is currently a finalist for three different awards. But thank you notes and reviews from readers (like thank you notes from students) are still the most appreciated.

reflections · school

Dear First Time Teacher {who wants to change the world}

Dear First Time Teacher,

I know you’re excited.  I know you’ve spent days (maybe weeks) assembling bulletin boards and organizing shelves and color coding plans and reciting your “welcome to my class!” speech while driving across town to chase the best office supplies sales.

I know you think you’re prepared to change the world one first grader or eighth grader or graduate at a time.  You are and you will.  It just won’t be the way you think.

Your first year teaching will be both the hardest and easiest of your career.  The easy comes because it’s the year everyone around you nods in understanding when you say, “It’s my first year.”

Except the parents.

Parents don’t care if you’ve been teaching one year or thirty years, they want the best experience possible for their child because, like you, they’ll never get a do-over on this year.

Remember that when you think they’re your friends.  They’re not; they are your employer and deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.  You, likewise, should expect the same from them because in a conference you are there as the professional.

So be professional and understand, you can be a great teacher and still, not everyone is going to like you. 

But sometime later, when this year is over, and you establish a relationship that’s not founded on homework assignments or detention, some of those parents will become your friends and your greatest champions.

The scariest moment is going to come when you close the door to your classroom for the first time and realize you’re alone with close to 30 students who are waiting for you to make the first move.  They’ll size you up that first day and study you more that first week, and then they’ll decide how they’ll treat you.  And their decision will always be most impacted by the way you treat them.  


It’s your classroom, your routine, your heart that will give those lesson plans in that thick binder plenty of life, and before long, those students will be your kids.  You’ll love them more than you ever thought you could love someone else’s child. Of course, there will be plenty you’ll wish you could send next door to someone else, but when your colleagues see them in the halls and the cafeteria and they gym, they’ll be yours.  You’ll be responsible for them the whole time they’re on that campus, and there will be a precious few for whom the burden of responsibility will transcend an 8-hour day.

People will judge you by them.  This isn’t some new outcome of years spent with NCLB, it’s how it’s always been. You may not be able to control whether someone fed them dinner last night or if they got up alone in the dark to catch a bus just so they could get breakfast, but you can control your classroom.  You can make it a safe place and you can make it, first and foremost, a sanctuary for learning.  

I promise you can.

You just have to remember that you can’t save them all.

You are one person in a long line of educators and counselors and coaches and administrators, so sometimes all you can do is pray that someone else succeeds when you feel like you’re failing.

That’s okay.  You don’t have to be everything to everybody.

Chances are, when you’re a teacher, you’re everything to at least one.

Have a wonderful first year.  Learn from your mistakes (you’re going to make them).  Make new friends with those in the trenches with you.  Build a community.  Cling to grace.

You are a teacher.

31 Days: Fear

Because Failure Is What I Fear Most: 31 Days

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was nine years old. That’s when my parents put a copy of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie in my hands, and I thought, I could do this too.

Tell stories. String words together to form images and persons and tears. Send someone into a world so different, yet so the same as their own that they long to step into pages and walk alongside those who exist only in imagination.

I wrote stories and poems and songs and terrific, terrible works of childhood. At twelve I was probably more of a writer than I am even today. In childhood, there was no fear of admitting this dream, because every child has an outlandish dream to become something truly great.

Then the fear set in, rooted itself deep and tight in my soul and heart and mind.

You’ll never be good enough. Failing Other People

You’ll try and you’ll fail and no one will ever respect you. 

They will judge you and tear you to pieces and you will be ashamed.

So I found my safety net. Teaching became a natural path for this creative type who wanted security and maybe just a touch of success. I knew I could be really good in a classroom. I knew I had compassion and idealism and knowledge. I knew that the best teachers evoke change in their students because of the passion brought into the room everyday. I knew I could do this, I could build up my confidence, and then, maybe someday, I’d stop scribbling in the dark and bring some of my own works into the light.

I floundered around in college. Theater welcomed me in and let me be part of telling stories that truly came alive. I learned to research and listen and delve deeper into words on a page. I thought this would be it–I’d be a high school drama teacher who maybe, one day would also write a book. That would become a play.

That would share a story.

Then I found no fear in love and settled down with a steady man who would give me the moon and the stars if he could. Then we had four beautiful, boisterous children.

Then I realized fear had taken over my life.

Mid-thirties approached with the knowledge that I had never been published, never been exposed, never been called a writer in the way I wanted to be. Blogging wasn’t satisfying this deep longing of my soul.

Blogging was teaching me to find the voice that would tell the stories buried in my heart–stories that weren’t always mine, but someone else’s. Stories that would keep putting light and hope and redemption into this dark world of fear.

And I found to my surprise that failing other people is nothing compared to the discovery that I had failed myself. 

So I wrapped my fear and my hope in a pretty shirt from StitchFix, packaged it into a neat one page and a 500 word excerpt, and I sat down at the table across from an editor and a real, published, well-known author.

And she told me I shouldn’t be afraid of my gift. That I was a talented writer. That my voice was strong.

And in that moment, the crippling weight of fear lifted, and anticipation, that blessed hope that someday this will happen, took its place.

You can read a sample of my fiction over here and here on the Lightning Blog with Splickety Publishing. And if you sign up for email posts, you’ll know when my award-winning short story comes out in Southern Writers Magazine later this month (because I might shout that from the rooftops).

Tell me–what’s holding you back from your dreams? Because kids and laundry and life will always tug at me, but I tell myself over and over, At least I’m trying. Can I help you try in some way?