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Teachers sometimes receive gifts from students before Christmas arrives. We might get some candy or a gift card, something that shows appreciation and thanks. They’re certainly not expected, but we are grateful for these tokens from our stars.

 Last week, I received a gift from a former student, and it was more priceless than the other items I may get before we leave for break. This former student moved to Owatonna a couple years ago, but was part of my class in 7th grade. She struggled to find the motivation to complete her work or to put much effort in when she did.

We have any number of students at different times who show this apathy. Hormones, lack of maturity, and other issues sometimes cloud the minds of these kids. The biggest heartbreak is when a teacher sees some hint of potential that is being ignored. That was the case with this student. She spoke well and had some good examples of writing among the few assignments I had received.

I called her mom one day and expressed my concern. We had a good discussion in trying to figure out a solution. I finally suggested a meeting with both her and her daughter present. Not only did the mother come, but the grandmother as well. I started to see an uptick in effort from this girl, though there were ups and downs.

She sent me a letter last week. In it she expressed her appreciation for that meeting. She said that although she still had her struggles, she continued to think back to the meeting and how the three adults there all showed such caring and concern that she was motivated to move forward and become a better student. She wrote that she now completes all her work on time and is doing well in high school.

One question she put in the letter was asking why I would care so much about my students. She couldn’t figure that out, but found it inspirational. I responded to her query in a letter of my own. People become teachers because they care about kids, I told her. Even when I’m losing my temper, it still shows a level of caring. As I tell my students, if you’re not doing your work and I’m not keeping after you, it means I’ve given up on you, and I don’t like to give up.

One of the reasons this former star has found success, I suspect, is that her mother and grandmother never gave up on her either and continue to impact her life. Following that meeting, the mom and I kept in contact, both when the student was showing continued success and when she might slip up. This continued caring from the parent had a much stronger impact than that initial meeting did, I’m sure. I’ve had many other meetings with parents over the years, but too often the parent makes that appearance, and I never hear from him or her again, despite efforts on my part.

And here’s the gift we can continue to give our children, the one that can’t be wrapped up and put under a tree, the gift of caring and being involved in their lives. We get so busy that we too often leave our kids to fend for themselves. We’re tired when we get home from work and don’t even want to think about looking at their schoolwork or checking their grades.

I’m no hero for calling up or e-mailing parents in an effort to make some progress with students. That’s my job. I can’t find true success, however, without the help of the parents to show that caring and concern. In reality, education is like a triangle with parents, students, and teachers working together equally to bring the child to a level of success, whatever that might be for each individual. If we’re missing one side of a triangle, it quite literally falls flat.

What do I want for Christmas? I want more e-mails replied to, more phone calls returned, and more follow through once we can get a foothold with that triangle idea. Letters like the one I received are worth so much more to a teacher than anything else; they provide the fulfillment that helps keep the engine going in a stressful occupation.

When I was sitting in the lounge reading that letter, I felt a tear come to my eye. Teachers do care, and that letter helped remind me that I need to continue to care for each of my students and strive for the relationships that help form that triangle of success.

I hope all my readers have a Merry Christmas and treasure the time you have with your families! Please remember the reason for the season, and look for those gifts that might not have a ribbon attached, those that are not tangible. Enjoy every moment!

Word of the Week: This week’s word is rechauffe, which means warm, leftover food, as in, “There was plenty of rechauffe for days after the family gathered for a Christmas feast.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!

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