Learning lessons from living with two elementary school teachers…

If you have not been following Humans of New York these days, please do so immediately. Aside from the general do-good’ed’ness that typically comes out of HONY, the last few weeks have been spent with educators and students from Mott Hall Bridges Academy. Please, invest in this movement – go see the powerful moments which are unfolding on social media right before our eyes. I am constantly inspired by this story and the coverage occurring nationwide, thus leading me to my own sea of reflection related to my education background. Let’s pause here for a moment.

I woke up this morning to the smell of coffee, and by 7:30AM, at least one cup had already been poured. This coffee was different. While most Americans (including myself) may have poured one cup by times even as earlier than 7:30AM, this coffee was potentially more valuable and valued than that of my fellow coffee-drinking comrades. Specifically, most individuals are not teaching 4-9 year olds every single day for seven hours per day. The coffee I smelled was teacher’s coffee. And, I rest my case. Valuable. Needed. Appreciated. The end.

I am currently living with two teachers, and specifically, two elementary school teachers. While in this transition, I have been truly lucky to have one of my dearest friends open up her home to me and allow me to stay with her until I figure out my next steps (seriously, this is probably one of the kindest things anyone has done for me, and if ever given the chance to pay it forward, I will do so without hesitation). These two individuals are passionate, creative, and committed to their work, as well as dedicated to the students they serve. Over the past month, I have watched, what seems like, thousands of papers be graded, projects be created, and hundreds of extra hours be poured into the development of a class of tiny human learners (among many other areas of solid, hard work).

My temporary roommates, Miss Holley and Miss Shropshire, are just two of many phenomenal professionals, though I would argue their skill and passion to be among some of the best in the country. Before I go any further, let’s pause again, while you meet Elementary School Michael:

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At first glance, I may seem like a total sassy mess, however I will assure you, there is much more than what met the initial eye. Sure, I definitely was a sassy mess, but I was also a total learner. I loved school, my friends, reading, and always, my teachers. I was a total chatter-box, and assumably asked more questions than my teachers had patience or answers for – this, perhaps, has not changed. And while I may have appeared to be resistant to the confines of school, I was actually a kid who really loved to get up each day and learn. Learning was fun for me, and even to this day, I remember the very teachers who impacted that learning by paving a way for me to thrive and excel as early as elementary school.

Ms. Neal, Ms. Schuman, Ms. Freeman, Ms. Sweeney, Ms. Anthony, and Mr. Holt: thank you. Seriously, thank you. Before I could refine myself as a student in middle and high school, you all taught me the fundamentals, the basics. And regardless of how much I actually remember during those times, I am lucky enough to be able to read, add, process, and reflect, and in so many ways, I owe that learning and development to you all, the earliest educators in my life.

As much as I believe learning outside of the classroom to be more important that that knowledge one receives inside of the classroom (student affairs, extracurriculars, co-curriculars, before/after school programs, etc., the list goes on and on), I have many moments similar to the one I am having today, and throw this belief out the window. Furthermore, I have to remember some of my closest friends who are teachers, and acknowledge that the children under their umbrella of learning are truly lucky souls. Just like the children learning from Miss Holley and Miss Shropshire, there are kids across the United States who are benefiting from late night grading sessions, extra hours of tutoring, mentoring, and loads of personal money coming from their own pockets (i.e., a lot of what is being gleaned from the HONY bits).

Last week I attended a fundraising night at a local restaurant with my two temporary teacher-roommates. If you’ve ever been in public with an elementary school teacher who runs into her or his students, you will agree that it is quite magical. Miss Holley and Miss Shropshire were greeted with hugs and cheers, and from both students and parents. And hugs and cheers are not uncommon. It’s a thankless job, however the reward is high. For example, Miss Holley spends at least one night per week tutoring a sweet first grader, as she lives as a sponge to the fundamentals of reading. Literally, before her eyes and as a result of her instruction, she is helping a tiny human understand a skill which many take advantage of possessing. Reading is a gift, and there is a huge part of this country who have not been given this knowledge.

As I think deeper about this specific moment of educating, I have to wonder, when did I pick up this skill, this life essential? Specifically, when did I learn to read? Was it hard for me? What words did I trip up on? What was my reading level? Was I good at reading? Did I have ADHD like my doctors all alluded? How did I make meaning of education’s, “Three R’s?”

Of course, I don’t know if I can answer any these questions, other than via anecdotal stories my parents might have saved up for me if ever I decide to have children of my own. Though, I would further argue, most of us who have the privilege of knowing how to read also don’t remember this point in our lives. I certainly don’t remember the initial stages of reading, writing, and arithmetic, and today, am really pausing on the reality of just how lucky I am to have this skill and ability.

For those of us who do know how to read and write, we are truly lucky. And, in most ways, owe this development to our teachers. If you have a friend who is a teacher or a child who benefits from the elementary school learning process, please take time to thank them. Appreciate them. Love on them. Just as I noted above, this job is often thankless, and the hours can be, at times, more than most benefactors understand. “Thank you,” goes a long way.

To all the Miss Holleys and Miss Shropshires out there, feel the love, feel the vibes, feel the power. Thank you.

Forever indebted,

Michael

*Another huge thank you to my 1st-6th grade teachers, Ms. Neal, Ms. Schuman, Ms. Freeman, Ms. Sweeney, Ms. Anthony, and Mr. Holt. And also, to my parents, who understood that learning also occurs at home, and spent hours reading with/to me, doing math problems with me, and challenging me to be the best learner I could and would be – they prepared me every single day for school, and I am thankful to have had that circumstance during my earliest years of education. 

**Additionally, I’m obsessed with Humans of New York, and the work being done right now has also been a huge pause of appreciation for me. Please take a look, and find a way to connect and give back – really powerful stories are being told, and more so, education realities being highlighted. Once you know, you can’t say that you don’t. 

***My thoughts on education, in general.

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