Educators…after a fortuitous few years, the summer of 2022 greeted you with the opportunity to take a much needed collective breath. My hope is that you filled your precious time with all the things that deeply matter to you. In my world, I don’t know an educator who didn’t embrace some space and time to recharge, reconnect, reflect on the past, focus on the present, and prepare for the future in intentional ways. You have been profoundly thinking about the trajectory of the last several years in education and where that journey has led you to today. You were faced with many challenges that don’t have to be echoed in this writing, because it is clear that you have lived them. You are not the same educator you were before March of 2020. You can’t be. You have done hard things.
Throughout the course of time, you have been immersed in contemplating different ways you intend on connecting with students to focus on their social-emotional well-being. You know that is what they need to feel a sense of belonging and develop a courageous confidence to do the harder things. You have been revisiting the instructional practices you have learned should certainly stay, because they are good for kids. You have thought about practices you are ready to let go of because they are not working. You have been tirelessly working to refine your craft after experiencing an extraordinary learning curve of a lifetime. You have shown gratitude to those who have brought the best out in you when you couldn’t see it yourself. You were entrenched in bringing out the goodness in others instead of thinking about the needs of your own. You have fallen down and have picked yourself up time and time again because you are here for kids. You have done hard things.
At the beginning of the summer, I took a trip to the beach with my son Ethan. Before we got ourselves settled, we headed to the snack bar to purchase some beverages and food to enjoy for the day. I was greeted by a lovely young man who graciously smiled when he asked what he could get for us. His gaze startled me. I stared into his eyes for what seemed like an eternity. It was probably 20 seconds. And then it dawned on me exactly who he was… “Gabriel?” I said. Looking surprised, the young man responded, “Yes, that’s me, do I know you ma’am?” My smile must have covered my whole face because the memory of him reading in front of me came rushing back. “Yes, I think you do know me.” I replied. “I think you may have been in my reading class when you were in elementary school.”
I immediately saw that he was perplexed…but not for long. “Wait a minute, Mrs. Kaufman? Is that you? How could I forget you Mrs. Kaufman. You helped me to read in that little closet. Do you remember? There was no space in the school for you to have your own classroom anymore. It was right after Hurricane Sandy when our community was decimated and many of our schools were ruined. We had to house a whole other school in our building because they didn’t have one to go back to. You were moved from your classroom and taught us reading in a very small confined space.”
I couldn’t believe it, I had remembered Gabriel, but didn’t recall that I taught him during that difficult period of time. There was so much loss for me both personally and professionally in 2012, that I managed to tuck those memories away. In fact, I’m usually running away from them. I just remembered his sweet, grateful heart and his willingness to learn. With tears filling my eyes, he interrupted the beginning of my response. “Mrs. Kaufman…I am okay. I am more than okay. I am in college studying to be an engineer. Thank you for helping me read.” On the precipice of change myself, I needed to hear this as I embark on a new role as the Director of Literacy in a wonderful school district. This was the very moment that reignited the hope and confidence I needed to fully embrace the change looming on the horizon. My response to Gabriel, “My goodness, there is nothing better for a teacher to hear from a former student. Nothing. Thank you for giving me this gift today.” I walked away knowing that Gabriel and I are okay. Even after we had done hard things.
Recently, I read the book Heart! by Timothy Kanold. This beautiful sentiment from the book resonated, “Hope manifests itself in the growth we experience when we positively redirect the life of so many individuals. When we choose to become teachers and leaders of positive influence and impact, we see the people we work with as more than just members of a group. We see each student and each colleague as a person with a heart and soul just like ours.”
And just like that, your summer has faded. You are ushering in a new school year filled with hope, renewed strength, and an unwavering commitment to teach, learn, love, and empower yourselves and others. You will touch the lives of every student who walks through your classroom doors. You will use your evolution and growth as an opportunity to expand your impact and broaden your influence. And no matter what role you serve in an educational organization, you are looking forward to instilling hope and joy into the hearts of your students. Your impact is infinite. Your story continues. Your legacy will live on. In a time where teachers and administrators have left the field of education in droves, you are still here. You have done hard things.