Message in a Bottle

I have been out of the classroom for a few years now, so I no longer get notes or gifts from students and parents. It makes me realize that perhaps I took those kind words and gestures for granted at the time. Occasionally I will peruse the pictures and cards I’ve collected and often wish I’d saved them all. Every drawing. Every “World’s Best Teacher” mug. But I didn’t… so I find comfort in what I have.  One of the artifacts I revisit the most was from an adult learner.. a pre-service teacher.

A couple of summers ago I had the pleasure of teaching a science methods course to a group of 60 pre-service K-8 teachers. This group ranged from “kids” in their early 20s to experienced adults entering a second (or third) career as a teacher. I was a rookie in the college lecture circuit but I thoroughly enjoyed by time with those students and I worked hard to help them become champions of elementary science instruction.

On the last day of class, as I went to turn in grades and clean out my mailbox, I discovered an empty Dasani water bottle tucked beneath some junk mail. Inside the bottle was one long strip of paper wound in an artistic tangle. I gently pulled out the strip of paper, like the NY Stock exchange ticker, and read the following from one of my college students:

Dear Kirk, We talk about your class a lot. Everybody loves it. A lot. If Peter Travers from Rolling Stone wrote about your class, he would probably say something like “No class can be a downer that fills you with pure exhilaration. You leave Kirk’s class with a feeling of the rarest kind; that you’ve just enjoyed a close encounter with an enduring classic.” Seriously, I was talking to different classmates today about how science really isn’t their thing, but they look forward to your class. I kid you not. They also commented about it makes them want to teach science now. During the first class you briefly mentioned how statistically, science classes don’t change attitudes towards science. You definitely are. Your passion and dedication is obvious, you have a swell sense of humor, and your teaching style is contagious. Well, Kirk, this concludes my ramblings. Keep up the good work. Sincerely, A Student

That Dasani water bottle currently sits in my office. Every couple of weeks it will catch my eye. I grab it, unscrew the lid, and carefully withdraw that curled strip of paper. The words lift me up and remind me that maybe I’m OK at this teaching thing. And then I start to question why I’m spending most of my days locked in meeting rooms discussing educational initiatives, visions, missions, strategic plans, and pacing guides- feeling so far removed from the work of teachers and students.


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