Monday, December 9, 2013

Whatever Happened To...




Do you ever wonder whatever happened to your students after the year you spend together? I imagine how my students are finding life...are they happy? Successful? Do they still read? Write? What is going on with them?  

I taught fifth grade for eight years. Fifth grade was such a fun year to teach because the students were still young enough that school was something they loved and old enough that they could show some real signs of independence. Fifth grade is the oldest grade in our elementary schools, so the students enjoyed their final year before moving onto middle school and the challenges that came with that new adventure. 

2007 was a tough year for me personally. My dad collapsed in September of that year and then died in March of that same school year. He lived thousands of miles away, so my mind was definitely unfocused that year...but that year, Catie was in my class. 

Catie was a quiet student. She worked hard and got along well with everyone and seemed to like going unnoticed. I noticed her. Early in the year, the students wrote their first piece of writing for me. I used it as a diagnostic tool, so I always encouraged them to do everything they knew good writers should do. On the other hand, I also assured them that this wasn't for a grade. Writing for a grade paralyzed some students. I clearly remember Catie needing encouragement. She confided in me that she wasn't a good writer. I smiled and said, "Do your best! It will be ok!" She wasn't convinced, but she continued. Students finished their drafts and handed them in and the day continued. 

After school, I read through the drafts. When I got to Catie's draft, I stopped. STOPPED. The writing that she produced...I was speechless. It was filled with beautiful images and complex sentences. Even though I didn't know her well, I could hear her voice in her writing. It was all of those things you want your students to do. The only thing she needed support with was her spelling. That's it! 

The next day I conferenced with her. I asked her why she said that she's not a good writer. She responded, "Because I can't spell." I spent the next minutes explaining to her that spelling isn't writing and extolling her writing gift. We focused on improving her spelling and finding tools to help her spell correctly. She grew during that conversation. I mean, I literally saw her sit up taller and listen to me. As our year progressed, Catie wrote creative, funny, warm pieces of writing. I submitted a piece of her writing to a juried contest and she won. With each piece of writing, Catie grew more confident and took more risks. She was a joy to teach!


Fast forward to this year...I've changed schools, she's a senior in high school.  I teach in a different town. I bumped into Catie at the movie theater a year or two ago, but other than that, we've lost touch. Until September when I received this message:


9/18, 5:47pm

Ms. Haseltine,
I don't know if you remember me, but I used to be in your fifth grade class in 2007. I know this message seems out of the blue, but I thought I should tell you that I'm currently writing a speech about you.
This year, my senior year at high school, I signed up for a public speaking class (my worst nightmare). Our very first speech is about an influential person in our lives and I picked you!
I wrote about how I was always the quiet kid in school, not easily remembered by most of her teachers, but it was different when I was in your class. You always remembered my name and, to me, gave me a sense of identity.
I had always thought I didn't have a special talent or unique quality, but you opened me up to myself and helped me discover my love for writing. I talked about a special moment when you pulled me out of the classroom and told me you had entered one of my short stories in to a contest and I had won, thus qualifying me to attend a writing camp.
You told me that I was a good writer and that I had a real talent. I have never forgotten those words and they continue to encourage me and have left a mark on my heart. I still have the short story you submitted and I read it for laughs occasionally. I'm no longer the quiet girl who hides behind her writing, now I am the Editor-in-Chief of my school newspaper and have gotten quite good at bossing people around!
I had found a quote that I used in my speech that I thought fit the situation rather perfectly. It's by William Lyon Phelps and states, "A student never forgets an encouraging private word, when it is given with sincere respect and admiration."
So I just wanted to take the time to thank you for encouraging me as a kid and for being such a wonderful teacher. Your kind words and confidence in me have continued to aid me through life. You have and will always be my favorite teacher!
Sincere regards,
Catie 



This is why I teach. Years later, she remembers that moment as I do. I'm so grateful that she reached out and shared her thoughts with me. This is what I'll hold onto during those dark moments. I can make a difference.  


29 comments:

  1. Let me be the very first person to stand up and applaud you, teacher! BRAVO Michelle!

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  2. What a wonderful piece and a wonderful story! You had me in the moment waiting for each step to unfold. You need to save that letter! Thank you for sharing your story. Clare

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    1. Clare, thanks for commenting. I appreciate it! So glad you enjoyed the slice!

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  3. What a wonderful, powerful story and a reminder we can and DO make a difference. I loved that you told BOTH sides of the story and her note - is a keeper. I too stand and applaud you both! BRAVO

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    1. Thanks Anita! It was fun getting to tell my story and see her story mirrored in the note she sent.

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  4. I hope you have a special box for notes like this! What a treasure to hear from a former student and understand that you made a difference. Words that encouraged and left a mark on her heart...you did it!

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  5. What a beautiful story. You are so right...it is moments like these that get us through the dark times. I have a box that I keep things like that in and pull it out when I need reinforcement that I am making a difference. Good for you!

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    1. Me too, Leigh Anne. I'm grateful to be part of her story!

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  6. So wonderful! Definitely put that one in your treasure box to take a peek at during dark and stormy teaching days.

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  7. You have made a difference in the lives of so many kids. They have just failed to tell you. Still living in the neighborhood where you taught not only R but many kids, your name still comes up in many conversations. Not only are you an amazing teacher, you are an amazing person. Combine the two and how can you not make a difference?

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    1. Thank you so much! Your words mean a lot to me!

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  8. I'd frame that letter and put it somewhere I saw it when I got up and when I went to bed. What an tremendous gift you gave that girl. That is what we all hope to do when we enter our classrooms. Congratulations, job well done.

    I'm a fifth grade teacher. I love the age and i wonder what happens to them. Many come back and talk. That time I cherish. I'm so glad I clicked on this slice. It's a great start to my day.

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    1. Thank you so much! I'm grateful to have the chance to work with her. So glad you enjoyed it! :)

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  9. What an amazing moment - yes, that is why we teach. And bravo to you, for being the kind of teacher of whom students say :
    "I have never forgotten those words and they continue to encourage me and have left a mark on my heart.

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  10. Way to go! So often we don't know the impact we have on our students. I'm so glad Catie took the time to write you and let you know what a positive difference you made in her life.

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    1. I, too, am grateful that Catie took the time to share her thoughts with me!

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  11. I know I already replied once, BUT that book I recommended to you the other day, Almost Home...it is a similar story. A teacher influenced her to become a writer. I wanted you to read it because of the thank you notes she and her mother sent. But now after reading this...there is even more of a connection!

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    1. Leigh Anne, I'm so glad you posted about Almost Home again. I downloaded and am currently reading (and loving it)! Thank you!

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  12. Wow, wow, wow, Michelle! THIS is why teachers get up early in the morning, slog through the bad days, and work for far less money than they deserve. You changed Catie's life. Bravo for the impact you had on her and on all of your students!

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    1. Stacey, Thank you so much for your kind words. They mean more than you know!

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  13. This is beautiful, Michelle. Catie is so lucky that you looked past the spelling and recognized her abilities. I'm so glad that she reached out and shared the story of her success with you now. I know how gratifying this must be for you. Congratulations!

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  14. Beautiful! An extra present that gets better as you share it! Kudos to you for seeing the spark in a young writer's life!

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  15. Michele,
    Your piece made me cry! What a beautiful, beautiful story! I'd definitely frame this letter and hang it above my desk to read every few days!

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  16. Okay, I read it now (I lied unintentionally about waiting... couldn't help myself) and now I am crying. What a beautiful, touching post. It's true. A good, caring, skilled teacher can make all the difference. And, yes, we sit up taller when we are praised, even those of us who make our livings writing. We still sit taller when we are praised. When we write, when we live, we all still have the soul of a child. :)

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  17. Wow! What a beautiful letter and what an affirmation of what you do each day. Keep seeing all your students and making a difference in their lives.

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