Monday, September 7, 2015

Dollar Bill Paycheck

I've always joked about how a teacher's paycheck often comes years down the road when former students come back to visit or bump into you in a public place. Fifth graders rarely appreciate the hard work a teacher requires. You may be "their favorite teacher" for the year, but it's much farther down the road when the payoffs come- especially for an elementary teacher.

Every year, I tell my kids that they are part of my retirement plan, and that's why we need to work so hard. I totally expect discounts or free services when they become working adults. :) As part of my retirement plan, I tell them about my desire to go on a vacation to Hawaii. If every student remembered to give me just $1 when they graduated from High School, I could afford to go on my dream vacation. Students eagerly promise to remember to send me the dollar. I started telling my students my plan when I was a new teacher, and now I'm close to retirement. Do I have enough money for that Hawaiian vacation? No, but I've received a lot wonderful "paychecks" over the years and more so recently.

Once I was pleasantly surprised when a former student came into my classroom with a framed $2 bill. One dollar was for graduating from High School, and one was for graduating from college. She'd become an engineer and had landed a high paying job and came to celebrate with me. Ahh...this was an extra paycheck because one of my girls went into a science field. I've always been an advocate for girls going into STEM fields although it wasn't called STEM back then.

Another student came to visit me last Spring right after graduation. She told me how school had always been so easy for her until she came to my class. I challenged her, didn't accept her mediocre work, and gave her opportunities to lead. I don't really remember, but she did. She told me how our simulation for the Civil War changed her because she was the captain of her company. She realized for the first time that she could be a leader. Another paycheck! She graduated with all kinds of honors, a full scholarship, a name for herself in the theater (we participated in a lot of drama activities), and was a confident young woman.

One of my biggest paychecks ever came about 10 years ago. My entire class of former 6th graders came into my room the last week of school after their graduation practice. Only three students were not there, and they came on a different day. Those kids will never know how much they touched my heart! Most of us had spent two years together because I had changed from 5th grade to 6th grade. We grew so much in those two years! It was heartwarming that they all thought of me at graduation time. But equally touching was that all of my kids were graduating. They had big dreams and were on their way. Two of them were leaving within a couple of weeks to serve our country. Some were already making more money than I was as a teacher. And now, a decade later, those same kids contact me and keep in touch. Did they remember that $1 bill? No, not even them. But money cannot replace the "teacher's paycheck" of knowing that you made a difference in someone's life.

Other students have contacted me by email and even Twitter to my delight. Every student has a story! I've laughed! I've cried! I am so proud of my kids! The little girl who wrote me poems sent me one of her published books. A mom sent me letters from her two sons who are both doctors and had their mom find me to give me their letters. Two more of my kids came back just last week to visit and tell me about their successes and future plans. One of my former students recently contacted me and told me that he'd found me and had read this blog. :) I'm so touched!

You see, it all comes down to building relationships. The kids don't remember the facts, the test scores, and all of those great units of study I prepared. They remember the American Revolution and the Civil War simulations and how emotionally invested they were. They remember playing catch with a football after school. They remember the talks, the laughing, the silly awards I gave, the science experiments, writing and sharing stories, reading great books, and the high fives. Kids remember the musical programs, the service projects, and how we learned together. They remember the good feelings. I took the time to build team spirit and camaraderie. I loved and love them! I did everything in my power to provide them with the educational experiences that I'd want for my own kids. They are my kiddos! (quite literally since I don't have kids of my own) I never wanted to shortchange them.

Once again, I'm feeling the pressure to cover the curriculum, assess with more benchmarks, track the data, and make sure that the kids are ready for the year-end tests. Those things have their place. But, for me, my goal is to make sure my students prepare for life and are good citizens of a great country. So, I'm a rebel of sorts. My focus is on continuing to build relationships in my classroom, and the test scores will take care of themselves.

After all, it's the small things that you do that bring the greatest rewards.


  1. Great post Sandy!! Those type of pay checks are the most meaningful. Love to hear those success stories! Have a great year my friend:)

  2. LOVE this, Sandy! My keynote address I'm giving this month is about the importance of a school telling it's own story, and what I want to get across is that the magic happens in the small, continuous, day-to-day interactions between students and teachers. Those kinds of stories can't be told by media or an outside source...
    So much of what we do is planting seeds, nurturing them, and having faith that we've equipped kids for their future. So sweet to hear about your former students reconnecting with you!

  3. Thank you for inspiring us with your story. I love the idea of the dollar bill metaphor and the true VALUE it represents. AmAzInG. And clever. And heartfelt and wonderful. It truly is all about connections, isn't it? Cape up and crusade on, my friend.

  4. Thank you everyone for your comments. I just barely realized that someone commented. LOL Not used to this whole blogging thing yet. ;) I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment. Right after I published this post, another student contacted me. She's a teacher and has taught 4 years! I'm so proud! (I feel so old!) It really all comes down to relationship building as a priority. Thanks!