In Their Best Achievement Yet

In a recent blog post on Edutopia by Margaret Regan on why teachers teach, I came across the following words: “By being resilient, by challenging the status quo of educational bureaucracy, and by viewing themselves as life-long learners, they (teachers) come to care about, respect and love their students.”

I haven’t blogged in almost three months. My goal was once a week, and here I am again, putting it off. It’s hard. A lot has happened in three months. I want to tell you a little about that.

This year, I embarked on a great journey with my third grade students. The “journey” was something I had originally planned to only take a couple of months- a standard thematic unit, focused on habitats. At the very most, I expected my class would like my idea of creating a small school habitat, and yes, I truly did think it would only take a few months. Naive, probably, but that’s my truth. This “small school habitat” turned into a year-long project that has encompassed all subjects. My students asked questions, created a plan for a butterfly garden and a process to build it by focusing on native plants, published and sent out letters seeking help, received donations of plants and money for the garden, decided they wanted a brick path in the garden and actually secured funds for the materials, built by hand a brick path in the garden, studied each native plant in depth, observed growth of the plants in their blogs on a weekly basis, published and sent thank you letters, maintained plants despite numerous problems (gophers, tree disease and removal, etc.), created artwork, created technology projects, and planned and presented a formal dedication ceremony, of which has inspired me to write today.

I was going to cancel the dedication ceremony. I was tired. It was approaching the end of the school year. We had been encountering problem after problem with our garden. First, our district told us to shut our garden down because we had not had proper district approval. After many weeks of not working in our garden, our principal somehow worked it out and gave us the “go” that we could keep working. Next, gophers began eating many of our plants. Lastly, the district insisted that a decades-old, very large and very tall eucalyptus tree must be removed due to ant infestation. The tree removal destroyed almost half of the garden. At that point, I sat in my empty classroom and cried. I was going to cancel the dedication ceremony.

My students felt differently. Yes, they were as upset as I was about the problems, but they said they had worked hard and deserved to celebrate, and they did and they did. We put together an invitation, sent out copies to our supporters and parents, and hoped a few people would arrive to help us celebrate the students’ hard work. This Friday morning was our dedication. As the students were getting to their spots (they were to sing “The Garden Song” by John Denver), the guests started to stream in. First, a couple parents. Then, a couple older ladies. “Who are those ladies?” some students whispered. Then, a large group of adults, “Woah!!” A rumble of excitement waved through the classroom. Before we knew it, our classroom was full, with over 50 people coming to celebrate my students’ work in starting and building a beautiful native plant garden from scratch. We had donors that had come to see the impact of their generous donations. We had parents. We had teachers. I was astounded at the turn-out.

We started the ceremony. Our counselor welcomed the large group, spoke a few words about the importance of my students’ work this year, and handed over the audience to me. I spoke a few words, emphasized that the work belonged my students, and introduced some of my students. First, David came up to lead the pledge of allegiance (in his Boy Scout uniform). Next, a few of my students read their poems or presentations about their plants. Then, four of my students came up to the podium to press play on the iMovies they made. By the end of the fourth movie, some people were in tears. I was almost in tears the whole time! I can’t explain how very proud I was in those moments as I saw the excitement and joy on my students’ faces, the pride they felt over their accomplishments. It’s amazing how something so natural and simple as putting a plant in the ground and caring for it can transform one’s soul. I can and will at a later time, detail the many learning experiences my students gained along the way, but what it really came down to was learning a life lesson: “Hard work pays off.”

My student, Malachi, put it best in his iMovie trailer. He, my students, and I all agree this is our best achievement yet:

So as I was sitting at home, reflecting on the joy I was feeling over such a great day, I came across that blog post I mentioned earlier, and I did actually shed a tear or two (or three) of satisfaction. If I had not been resilient through this project, if I had not challenged the status quo of educational bureaucracy, if I had not been willing to learn throughout the journey, I would not have felt so much joy, pride, and love for my students yesterday. I mentioned some older ladies who came to our dedication ceremony. They were retired teachers, and their retired teachers association had granted $250 toward our garden earlier in the school year. They had not RSVP’ed for our ceremony, so it was unexpected to us that they would attend. As the students were leading our guests through the garden at the end of our ceremony, one of them came up to me and told me,”I can see that you respect your students, and they give you that respect in return. That is the most important part of teaching. Mutual respect.” My students have done nothing but earn my respect this school year, and I more than respect them. I love them dearly. They have inspired me to be a better teacher. They have loved me from day one, and I will forever love them in return.


By the way, I wanted to share the other three videos my students made, as they were great too!

Here is Manuel’s:

Here is Jennan’s:

And, here is Jessica’s:


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