Thursday, October 17, 2013

Your impact is priceless.

I know I haven't posted in a while -- it's been a really busy year! But I couldn't help but share this story because it got me a little choked up.

The past two days this week we had parent-teacher conferences. Conferences are great because we get a chance to talk to parents about how their kids are doing and what we're learning this year. Conferences are exhausting because you sit in a chair and talk nonstop for something like 12 hours and most of what you say is something that you already said 20 minutes ago to someone else. Have you ever given the same speech 18 times in 2 days? I did...and then I ate half a pint of double-chocolate ice cream. (Don't tell my trainer.)

Most of my conferences are pleasant and not terribly emotional - except for two this year. One I will not mention here but the other made me seriously re-think my thinking.

About two weeks ago my little friends and I were learning all about composing and decomposing numbers. Being the ridiculous, theatrical person that I am, this unit involved imaginary school buses, animal sleepovers, letters from aliens, and a full-fledged birthday party for our bovine friend Sr. Vaca. Since 10 is such an important number, I told the kids it was his 10th birthday. (Based on when I got him, he's actually 11...sssshhh!!!! Don't tell!)

The birthday party for Sr. Vaca happened on a Friday. The previous Monday, our little friend M told us during morning meeting that her birthday was the day before. Since she joined our class a few weeks after the other students, I didn't have her birthday on my calendar yet and I was completely caught by surprise. Yikes! So on Friday, in honor of her birthday (and to make up for my not realizing it) we had a joint birthday party for little M and Sr. Vaca. There were fruit loops, skittles, tootsie rolls, two kinds of koolaid (blue and green), balloons, noisemakers, a cake and 10 candles. We sang to our cumpleaneros and as is a tradition for most of our families, M blew out the candles and then picked a friend to smush her face in the cake. The pictures are quite cute. When they left for the day, we gave her the leftover treats and some balloons to take home.

I thought this was no big deal. In fact, I was kind of annoyed at myself that day because I thought I'd overspent on the supplies for the birthday party (who breaks open their piggy bank to throw a birthday party for a stuffed cow? Me, that's who. Apparently).

When M's mother came to conferences, I showed her her daughter's little poster that she made about the number 10 at the party. Her mother's response was, "Yes, she told me that you had a party for her and the cow. We were sad because we couldn't throw her a party this year. We told her maybe next year. But she said to me, you don't need to throw me a party, mom. I had a party at school."

I. Almost. Cried.

Here I was, thinking that it was no big deal - just a regular over-the-top math lesson. In fact, I was annoyed by the number at the bottom of my grocery store receipt. All the while having no idea that making 10 and celebrating with Sr. Vaca meant that a child who would not otherwise have had a 7th birthday party at all got to have one with 17 of her friends, a blow up alien, a stuffed cow, and a cake.

20 years from now, who knows if she'll remember me. Or how much time we spent learning about the numbers five and ten. Or how great my learning targets were or how well I differentiated my lessons. But maybe, just maybe she'll remember the day we threw her a birthday party.

To all of you who spend your own money on your class, who take time outside of work to plan great lessons and exciting activities, whose Lakeshore and ABC Zone and Discount School Supply bills are 10 times higher than what you can write off on your taxes...remember this. The money that you spend is trivial, but the impact that you make on that child's life is priceless.

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