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In Your Words

What lessons have your students taught you?

What lessons have your students taught you?

A student taught me that a caring teacher opens the door for learning. "Shannon" was an angry, out-of-control 15-year-old. She'd been a runaway since the age of nine, trying to escape an abusive home life. Before moving in with an older cousin, Shannon spent 18 months in juvenile detention. She sat in the back of class, arms crossed defensively. School was stupid, she'd decided. Nothing she'd do in school would matter in her life—until I gave a writing assignment on survival. Shannon's essay was called "I'm a Survivor." It described what she'd been through and how she'd managed to endure. I applauded her ability to share her experiences in writing, and she showed me she did care about doing well in school. I learned that encouraging and accepting her through her writing embraced her spirit.

Sheila Freeman, alternative education English teacher, Van Buren, Arkansas

Lev Vygotsky said, "Children grow into the intellectual environment that they are in." My students have taught me that this is true. Every day my students teach me how to teach them. I teach, I watch, I listen....I adjust my teaching to each student's individual present level...and then I nudge each one forward to reach higher levels of thinking.
Elizabeth Stein, special education teacher,  Smithtown, New York
As an educator of exceptional needs high school kids, I've learned a lot about patience and tolerance. For example, when trying to teach my students to solve a one-step math problem, my frustration became obvious. In exasperation, I exclaimed, "This is not rocket science!" From the back of the room a student called out, "It is to us!" Enough said.

Jacob Schnur, special education teacher, Joplin, Missouri

I've learned to assume nothing! When teaching a unit on tall tales, we read about Pecos Bill who lassos a cyclone. I felt sure my students knew what a cyclone was, but I asked anyway. A boy raised his hand. "I know!" he said. "A monster with one big eye!" Even though I assume they'll know I'm kidding, I ask students which of the four presidents on Mount Rushmore is President Rushmore. "The first one!" a student inevitably shouts. "The third one!" says another. When your students recite the Pledge of Allegiance, do you assume they know the meaning of "pledge," "allegiance," or "indivisible?" They'll learn what they need to know eventually, but in the meantime, assume nothing.

Tim Miller, fifth-grade teacher, Harborcreek, Pennsylvania

Through all my years of teaching, students have taught me many good lessons. One that stands out is that every single child is a unique and special individual seeking to connect and make sense of his or her world. As a teacher, I grab onto their moments of success!

Ana Estrada, kindergarten teacher, Covina, California

I am constantly astounded by students' insight into the complexities of life. At an early age, they understand the difference between right and wrong and see bullying and the subtleties of racism more clearly than some politicians. Through their writing, students let me into their world, show me what they worry about, what they think, and what they see as they walk through their days. It's made me strive to be a better person, a stronger teacher, an advocate for what I, too, know is right and wrong that is buried somewhere inside my grown-up persona.

Sharon Yancey, third-grade teacher, Department of Defense School, U.K.

We want to hear from you! What do you hope students will remember most about you down the road? Tell us, in your words, using specific examples and anecdotes.

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