The following is a transcript from the video above. I recommend watching the video, but here's the text as well.
I was once teaching this time of year when I noticed one student named Tony was acting really down and angry. He also wasn't working. So I said to him, "Tony, in 2 weeks you get a nice break from school, and if you can just hang on for two more weeks, you can go on Christmas Break."
And Tony just gave me this cold smirk and said, "Dude, I hate Christmas."
Well I naïvely said, "What do you mean you hate Christmas? Nobody hates Christmas."
And he looked me right in the eyes and he said, “Man, easy for you to say. I don't get gifts or do anything. I cook hot dogs while my mom gets drunk and passes out on the couch. Not looking forward to Christmas, Muir.”
I can’t relate to this. My childhood wasn’t always rosy, but I always loved Christmas. And I especially loved a 2 week break from school. So Tony’s words rocked me to my core. It explained a lot about why he was acting the way he was.
For kids like him, no school means no regular meals. No daily contact with teachers who love and care about them. And if you live where I live, often no warm air for 2 weeks. So when the last day before holiday break came, my heart was broken for this kid as I saw how much he was truly affected by leaving school for two weeks.
I wanted to do something about it. So on the evening of that Christmas, I went to the only store open that day, a CVS, and bought a little wireless Bluetooth speaker, for like 10 bucks, and I texted Tony and asked him if we could meet up for just a minute. I met him at the end of his driveway, and he was probably like, "Why is my teacher here?" And I gave him his only present that year. Just a $10 speaker, and maybe 30 minutes of my entire day, not really a big deal on my part, but this gesture had such a huge impact.
The kid couldn’t believe it.
I stopped being just a history teacher to that boy that Christmas. I became apart of his home.
My teacher friends, you are English teachers, math, science, history, and gym teachers. You might be a counselor or principal, or custodian or bus driver. But you are also more than that. To many students, you are home. You embody caring, wisdom, generosity, stability, love to them. And when we live into that and realize the impact we can have on students from very simple acts of caring and kindness, incredible things can happen in the lives of kids.
As Frederick Beuner said, “They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”
Tony returned from Christmas Break happy to be back at school. He still wasn’t crazy about learning history, but he now knew that this is a place he is loved and valued, and as a result was more engaged in school than ever before. So keep an eye out for those kids who seem a little restless the next couple weeks, who are acting out not because they’re excited to go on a ski trip or receive presents or get to play Fortnight for hours on end, but because they’ve had weeks off of school before, and it wasn’t pretty.
These kids are the ones who shrink a little bit when we ask what everyone is doing over break; when we assign little writing prompts about what they want for Christmas or Hanukkah. So in the next few weeks, be aware of how we talk about the holidays with your students, maybe plan to shoot an email or text to a kid over break and ask how they’re doing. If you’re comfortable with it, maybe buy a small gift for a student who is on your heart.
But more than anything else, make sure every kid in all of your classes knows that you care about them.
Thank you for being an educator. Especially this time of year.