During the remaining days of December, the darkest days of the year, I’ll post reflections on lessons of kindness I have learned from others. Here’s the second in the series.
I teach at a pretty remarkable school. They have created a culture here of gratitude and civility. I am awed by it every day. People sometimes don’t believe me when I tell them– and to be honest, when it first happened, I didn’t believe it myself. My school has built a stunning culture of gratitude. Every period, of every class day, five or six students say “Thank you” to me as they leave the classroom. When I first started at Gonzaga College High School four years ago, I was shocked. I jokingly asked myself: What country is this?
Four years later, it continues. Five or six students, in each of my classes, make a point of thanking me before they leave the room. It amazes me.
What I also find amazing is the energizing power their gratitude has on me. I might not think the class that just ended was worth thanking me for. But they do. Whether we have a great discussion, a test, a workshop in which they edit each other’s writing, several of them voice gratitude. Is it habit? Is it routine? Sometimes. But it’s a pretty powerful routine.
Regardless of how I think the class session just went, I feel better about it when they thank me. I also feel more committed to make sure the next class gets the best teaching I can provide.
This is what surprises me: gratitude is not about the past. It’s not about what just happened, the incident for which one is thankful. Sometimes we forget the power gratitude has to change the future. It’s about the effect it has on the one being thanked. For me, at least, gratitude lights a fire inside me as they leave the room. I will moderate this discussion on Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” even better tomorrow. I will ask them sharper questions about The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. My students’ gratitude makes me a better teacher. Everyday.
Photograph: Rock Creek Park, Washington, D.C.