what they will remember

As I’ve been writing these posts about all of my experiences as a teacher and interactions with my students, I stopped and paused to reflect on what I remember of my teachers.

Immediately, I go back to my fourth grade year. I don’t remember a ton from that year – mostly certain smells, colors, and routines all blur together in my mind.

However, there is one particular day I will never forget.

I have always struggled with perfectionism. I’ve come to learn that perfectionism is one of the ways that anxiety manifests. As a child, it was mostly evident in my school work and my worrying. As I’ve grown up, it’s been evident in different areas.

My upper elementary years were particularly difficult for me. I worked extremely hard at school and there were a lot of things that came very hard to me. (Specifically, I remember NOT being able to memorize the parts of a plant for the life of me, which makes me laugh now.) I would spend hours on my homework every night.

Meanwhile, school came naturally to my brother. He would do absolutely no homework and would score the highest of anyone in the district in math on our Standardized State Tests. And not just by a little. By 25 points.

Anyways, I remember one day in 4th grade, we were doing a worksheet. I had written and erased my name probably 4 times already because I didn’t like how it looked, which was typical. I went up to ask a question. I cannot quite remember if my teacher noticed the erase marks from my name or if I was stuck on a different part of the worksheet.

But, she took my paper, drew scribble marks all over the edges of the papers, and said, “You can either erase the marks and get a 0, or be okay with them on your page and get your full score.” I sat at my desk staring at my paper for a long time. The memory fades out from there.

What I do remember is that when she said that to me, I smiled. Not because there were scribbles on my paper. Not because I was happy with what she said. Not because I thought it was funny. But because she saw me. She knew that what I was truly struggling with was not the worksheets, but with the fear of being wrong. The fear of not being good enough.

If I remember correctly, I decided to leave the marks alone, although it was an immense struggle.

It was the beginning of my self-awareness of my challenges with perfectionism.

Two years later, I saw her in the hallway, and she touched my shoulders and said, “Are we still leaving those scribble marks alone?” I said, “It’s much better,” with a smile.

Fast forward to my senior year of high school. I invited her to my graduation party. She was unable to come, so she got a card to my dad to give to me. When I looked at the front, it had my name, “Caitlin”, written in squiggly letters. I noticed right away.

I don’t know if that means I got “worse” or “better” or if it just meant that the fact that she saw me all those years ago found it’s way into my heart – my bones – and changed me.

These things, these memories, help me to keep my philosophy of teaching straight. Sadly (I say sadly because I spend hours planning), they are not going to look back and remember how great my lesson on nonfiction text features was, or how we’ve covered “theme” a trillion times. Because I don’t remember those things, and I loved school.

What I do remember is how my teachers treated me in every circumstance, how they spoke to me, when they saw me for me, when they came up with exceptions and new strategies to make school work for me, how they gave me second chances, and how they took extra time to talk to me about my life.

So, when the day is over, when I shut off the lights and close the door, I don’t only ask myself, “Did I laugh enough?”, I ask myself, “How did I treat them? How did I speak to them? Did I see them for them? Was I patient enough? Did I give out second chances? Did I love them?”

Because that is what they are going to remember.

love always, caitlin


4 thoughts on “what they will remember

  1. This is perfect ! I love this . It’s so good to be reminded what really matters at the end of the day to children . They do listen and it does matter what we say and how we say it ! So proud of you Cater !❤️
    Love , Mom

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for a reminder that children (and grownups) will remember how you made them feel. I have a challenging group of 8th graders at the end of the school day. I try to start the period with “how are you? glad to see you…” in hopes that I can keep up the positive stamina as theirs wanes. Great slice!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. >Because that is what they are going to remember.<

    And this bring us right back to "why" we became teachers, to make an impact. In the end, my social studies lessons won't be the things remembers, but the way students felt, how I spoke them, the fact they could talk and I'd listen, that they'll remember.

    Thanks for the slice today! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

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