"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
This week when my fifth grade students came back from science, I had a mint sitting on each of their desks. Anyone who has ever spent any time in an elementary school knows that when candy is involved, the motivation factor increases.
However, if you read my last article, you might also remember that I am the teacher that believes in intrinsic motivation and rarely believes in rewarding children for behavior I expect.
So, I watched for a couple minutes as students settled in and the chatter began. “Can we eat it?” one student holds the paper wrapper between his fingers up in the air, the tempting white circle of peppermint squeezed tightly. Students looked at each other and finally at me.
“Did anyone eat the mint?” I asked.
To my surprise, all waited for future directions. I smiled that they accomplished this small feat in basic classroom etiquette.
“I have a challenge for you,” I tell them.
They can either eat the mint now OR find someone after school today to give the mint to, telling them THREE reasons why they have “meant” so much to them and how they help make their life better.
What never fails to amaze me is how excited children get when given the opportunity to make our world a brighter place.
My final words were that we’d be writing about it the next morning in our journals and they could share how the project went.
Now, shift to the next morning.
Let me just say it was one of the roughest mornings I’ve had in a long time. I will not leave you with gory details, but it involved a teenager and a mom, who lost her cool and tried to impart the lessons of the world about how the cow ate the cabbage.
I’d like to say that those same patient qualities that make me an effective teacher don’t always translate to being an effective single mom to a rebellious teen that is strong willed. (Let me just say that many of these qualities will serve him in the future, I am certain, but it can make for a painful journey with a mom who doesn’t understand why anyone would want to do anything but follow the rules.)
I usually have a mental garbage can when I walk into the classroom, dispensing all those personal items temporarily that will not serve me when working with 32 kids who rely upon my facilitation to get through a great learning day. Yet, my mind was deluged with what went wrong before I walked into my sanctuary (which is my classroom).
I am sure my students noticed the swollen eyes from lack of sleep that displayed the worry on my face from the previous 24 hours. Nonetheless, they were more quiet and ready to work.
I dove into the school work, the grammar, the vocabulary, the pumpkin character book reports and completely forgot about the project.
Then, one of my students shot up her hand in a way that demands attention.
“Are we going to share our Mint Projects??” A resounding round of “Yeahs” filled my room.
“Is that what you’d like to do now?” I asked, which is a rare question as I am usually quite confident of what will be tackled in our daily schedule.
Journals shot out on the desk faster than Clint Eastwood pulls a gun in one of his famous westerns.
“Ooh, I want to share!” was an expression multiplied to the power of 10.
One by one, the students shared whom they were grateful for and why that person meant something to them. I couldn’t help but get out of the funk I was in and realize the importance of gratitude and appreciation, something that I don’t usually need to be reminded of.
I also couldn’t help but wonder if my own kids had someone who has “meant” a lot to them. And that reminded me that EVERYONE needs someone like that in his or her life.
I heard about the piano teacher who helps one of my students learn songs for her to play in church.
I heard about one of my students who is grateful for an older sister.
And I heard about best friends, mothers, and fathers.
I even heard from a couple students who didn’t have the will power to wait and share with others but ate the mint themselves, describing that they, themselves meant a lot to, yeah, themselves.
So, here is my challenge to you, the Danville Patch reader. When was the last time you told somebody they have meant something to you? And more importantly, what can you do so that what you do means something to someone else?
Buy a pack of mints and pay it forward. Or, simply use the most powerful thing there is to share your appreciation with someone else: your words. You never know when you just might be someone's "life saver."