Watching my ten-year old daughter and my teenage son open gifts every Christmas produces such enjoyment for me. I revel in their excitement, their curiosity, and their appreciation. With each gift, I study their eyes, their smiles, their authentic and knee-jerk reactions. And at least one gift for each of them never ceases to amaze me. Although I don’t always predict the most successful presents, there is always that one, special gift that stirs up raw, pure emotions of enthusiasm. I call it simply “the perfect gift.”
What is the perfect gift for a teacher?
After learning of Clark’s prestigious Christmas bonus in the form of a one-year membership to the Jelly-of-the-Month Club, Uncle Eddie surprisingly surmised, “Clark, that’s the gift that keeps on giving the whole year.”
Finally, after lip syncing nearly five viewings of the holiday classic, Eddie’s wisdom finally registered in my head. I had my answer, but before I could utter my approval, Clark chimed in with, “That it is, Edward. That it is indeed.”
However, I must admit there is one catch with this flawless present. It must begin with a challenge.
Read on as I unwrap a multitude of educators’ presents below and ultimately reveal the perfect gift for a teacher.
Gift #1: A Challenge
To improve, there often has to be a fire lit under one’s posterior. Well, ’tis the season for rosy cheeks anyway, right? Perhaps the best classroom experience for any teacher is to have a student suggest, “Is this the best you’ve got?” This necessary sentiment is often expressed through nonverbal cues that practically scream “Your class is brutal!” Or through semi-respectful but blatantly honest comments like, “Your class is so boring that time just snails along as I scratch away at meaningless worksheets while the only thing that keeps me alert and awake enough to make progress are the occasional vibrations from my pocketed, and banned, smartphone.” No doubt a wake-up call is sometimes needed to joggle educators out of classroom stagnation. In fact, a challenge is the gift from which all other educators’ gifts originate.
Need a jolt, I mean, a gift? Let Student X help. Warning: this gift is not for the squeamish.
Gift #2: Purpose
Once a challenge has been issued, all determined educators delve deeply into their teaching philosophies for re-examination. Maybe that coincides with current practices and curricula or maybe that simply coincides with the most important curriculum of all, the real reason teachers choose to enter the classroom…to stir up enough curiosity to send all students on a personal quest that results in self-knowledge, creativity, generosity, and happiness.
Gift #3: Vision
Challenge? Check. Purpose? Check. What’s next? A shared, collaborative, and classroom vision that can sustain the gift of purpose. Founded in 2008, Studio 113’s vision has included improvisational acting, interactive learning structures, project and passion-based learning, and off-the-chain learning practices in a stage-centered and flexible classroom. To establish this vision at the beginning of the school year, Studio 113 bolstered its creative intentions on the following lyrics from “Am I Wrong?” by Nico and Vinz.
Am I wrong
For thinking out the box from where I stay?
Am I wrong
For saying that I choose another way?
I ain’t trying to do what everybody else doin’
Just ’cause everybody doin’ what they all do
If one thing I know, I’ll fall but I’ll grow
I’m walking down this road of mine, this road that I call home
So am I wrong?
For thinking that we could be something for real?
Now am I wrong?
For trying to reach the things that I can’t see?
But that’s just how I feel,
That’s just how I feel
That’s just how I feel
Trying to reach the things that I can’t see
Am I tripping
For having a vision?
Gift #4: Inspiration
Pablo Picasso was accurate when he said, “Inspiration does exist, but it must find you working.” In agreement, I say show me an inspired educator, and I’ll show you an amazing teacher who rocks the classroom with the zeal of the Energizer Bunny after inhaling a box of Krispy Kremes and chasing them with two Red Bulls. To be honest, observing inspired, master teachers working their craft is comparable to gazing at a work of art. They are one-in-the-same.
Gift #5: Creativity
Personally, this gift is what gets me out of bed at 5:30am every morning. Whether the day calls for interactive learning structures, acting on stage, students’ presentations, or wild-and-wacky learning activities, I can’t wait to see students’ talents and interests expressed out loud.
Gift #6: Happiness
The cumulative effect of the first five gifts is humor, laughter, and just overall professional happiness. I’m betting Confucius’ claim, “Choose a job you love, and you will never work a day in your life”, is true. I know I surely love coming to “work.”
Gift #7: Community & Family
The day a teacher walks around the classroom to assist students and suddenly realizes a community and family-like atmosphere are present is a day unlike any other. Collaboration, cooperation, mutual respect, ownership of learning responsibilities, and a genuine concern for others make up the wrapping for this gift.
Gift #8: Connectivity
Gift #9: Fortitude
I’m not going to lie. Teaching…can…be…tough. If you have ever been front-and-center in a classroom with 35 students daring you to grab their attention, then you’re picking up what I’m laying down. But that’s where a determined teacher rolls his sleeves up, plays a Springsteen song, and Charlie Hustles it in the classroom. You know what I mean. The Pete Rose in the classroom. Minus, of course, the alleged affiliation with steroids and gambling. But as sure as I am a bald-headed, forty-year old man who way out-kicked his punt coverage in the marriage department, I promise you that the gift of fortitude is invaluable. Teaching will definitely sound the alarm on a teacher’s insecurities. However, with the right attitude and toughness, that same alarm will morph into a triumphant song of success.
Gift #10: Balance
Ahhh, balance. That four-letter expletive, as many people refer to it. Highly sought after; hard to achieve. Illusive it sometimes seems. But with the unwrapping of the previous nine gifts, balance is bound to occur. Balance in the classroom. Balance outside the classroom. Balance between the following: work and home, students and family, weekend grading and recreational activities, professional life and personal life, stress and workouts, care-taking and self-care, and….well, just overall balance.
And that gets us to the greatest gift of all for a teacher.
I am grateful to be entrusted with such an important job.
I am grateful to share key, and oftentimes pivotal, learning moments with students.
I am grateful to witness students shrug off fear, step on a stage, and courageously share their talents, interests, and knowledge at such a vulnerable age.
I am grateful to accept suggestions from the true “customers” of education…the students.
I am grateful to experience the energy of students who have their whole lives, their wishes, and their dreams directly in front of them like a brilliant painter with a blank canvas and unlimited paint.
In fact, gratitude is ceaseless. You might even say, “That’s the gift that keeps on giving the whole year.”
And with a heart full of gratitude, I will look all students in the eye, accept their challenge, and respond, “Yep, my best is exactly what you’ll get, and together we are gonna unwrap one heck of a gift.”
Are you a teacher? Think back to your favorites that didn’t come gift wrapped. Share by commenting below!
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