We know we should constantly express gratitude for the big things in life - health, safety, sound structural buildings, running water. Additionally, I think it is the “little” things that make teaching easier and more manageable; yet these little things don’t often get the recognition they deserve. Hence, my list of A to Z Things I’m Grateful For.
A Air conditioning. On scorching days when my students cannot play outside we remain comfortable and cool within the air conditioned confines of our classroom.
B Books. There have been a few years when school has started before all our textbooks have arrived. It makes teaching infinitely more effective when there is an adequate supply of necessary textbooks and workbooks ready for the first day of instruction.
C CDs. It is infinitely easier to cue up a specific song using a CD rather than fast-forwarding an audio cassette. Likewise, showing my students one scene from a video is an easy task when I use a DVD compared to the video tapes I still own.
D Digital Cameras. I have immediate feedback, and can see if the photo I snapped of my students on the first day of school is clear. Did the child blink or look away? And, if one student happened to be absent the day I took photos, I can easily take the missing picture the next day and print it out, instead of waiting to finish a whole roll of film.
E Erasers. Erasers for pencils, for dry-erase markers, for certain pens. Erasers make my life easier as a teacher. And as an added bonus, they are manufactured in such cute shapes and designs!
F Four-day weeks. I’m a firm believer that most people would work more efficiently and more effectively four-days a week. Three-day weekends always seem to leave everyone in better moods, ready to come back to work, and really work.
G Google. When the internet is functioning, Google is a wonderful, instantaneous tool. When my students are engaged, are questioning and probing for further information, it’s great to be able to send a child to the class computer to google a picture of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris or to gather more information about the United States Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama.
H Heat. On a rainy day, with a blustery wind blowing outside, a working heater creates a more comfortable room environment and lets my students and I focus on our lessons instead of the weather.
I Ink for our printer. Computer? Check. Printer? Check. Ink? Not always. And without ink, what’s the point?
J J. K. Rowling and Jeff Kinney. These two authors created books that some of my reluctant readers want to read. These students now believe books are a source of entertainment and that reading is a pleasurable activity, not a chore.
K Kleenex and paper towels. There have been days when our classroom is devoid of these essential paper goods. On several occasions, I have carted boxes and rolls from home, just to make sure my students and I were equipped.
L Laminator. As an elementary school teacher, I think the laminator is an ingenious device. How helpful that a machine can quickly adhere a plastic covering over a piece of paper. That plastic covering allows me to reuse charts year after year and puts the finishing touches on Mother’s Day bookmarks and Father’s Day cards.
M Macaroni. One noodle - so many uses. A decoration for picture frames and tissue boxes. A key component of handmade necklaces and bracelets. Inexpensive and effective - a great combination for a teacher.
N Neighborhood. My school is located in a safe, residential neighborhood. I would not hesitate to enroll my son at this school. We are not a school that regularly experiences lock-downs due to unsafe, criminal behavior (either within the school or the surrounding neighborhood).
O Other activities. Teaching in an elementary school classroom means I must be all things to all the children in the room. It’s exhausting, switching from writing summary paragraphs to converting fractions into decimals. I am grateful for the changes in our daily schedule that give me a break. The grandmother of a former student who reads to my class once a week in our school library. The visual art teacher who is a fantastic teacher, making my students engaged, productive, and eager to participate in his lessons.
P Power. I have taught without power. The neighborhood was without power, so we did our best. We opened blinds, using whatever light we could. And I always prefer to have working lights when walking up and down stairs, using the restroom at school, and teaching easily distracted students.
Q Quiet. I choose to eat my lunch alone, in my classroom. By the time lunch arrives, I’m craving some quiet. And I am always especially grateful for an uninterrupted thirty-minute interval when no one needs anything from me, and I can just eat my lunch and read my paper. (It doesn’t often happen, but when it does, I say “thank you.”)
R Rain-free days. Rain, and its side effects - wet playground, slippery asphalt - mean students are required to spend all day inside. Some students don’t mind rainy day schedules as it gives them an opportunity to play our indoor games. However, teachers mind. Our kid-free breaks are drastically reduced, and after a while, a room-full of children who haven’t had a chance to go outside is bound to create a bit of a cacophony.
S Scotch tape, double-sided. For years, I would make posters including pictures of our class on a field trip, celebrating Halloween, enjoying a Thanksgiving feast. Double-sided tape makes it so much easier, and faster, for me to adhere the pictures to the poster.
T Tennis balls. My dad slices the tennis balls, and I pop them onto the bottoms of my student’s chairs. Viola! The chairs are now quiet as students push them in and out. I gratefully accept all donations of used tennis balls that may not work as well for the court but do the job in the classroom.
U Ultimatum. Sometimes an ultimatum is what it takes to get a student performing at the level I know he/she is capable of. A parent’s threat of punishment, the possibility of losing one’s phone or video game console, is a great motivator and often results in better classroom behavior which then translates into better academic performance.
V Volunteers. Volunteers that come into the classroom to help me and not merely to socialize with other parents. I appreciate parents who step up, see what needs to be done, and do it (especially during high-energy days like Halloween or a cookie-decorating party before winter break).
W Wipes. Baby wipes are incredibly useful. They wipe off our large class whiteboard and the students’ individual whiteboards. They clean off stray markings on desks. They wipe off dried spaghetti on a student’s face and paint after we’ve painted our handprints.
X Xerox machines. How much easier my teaching life is because I have the convenience of typing up something once and having a machine generate thirty copies of it. A machine that produces copies without turning my fingers purple (unlike mimeograph machines of the past).
Y Yesterday. However challenging, however difficult, however painful - I am thankful for yesterday. Because that means I’m here today.
Z Zip it. My students know I mean their mouths and not their zippers. Sometimes, disruptive behavior doesn’t need a whole lot of attention, just a curt acknowledgement that it was noticed and will not be tolerated.