As the wind and rain rattle my little house and threaten to tear off my siding, I find myself hunkering down and focusing on the short, disrupted school calendar set before me. The next six weeks offer timely breaks, but also demand careful planning. Kids are often gone physically and mentally. Nonetheless, I have curricular goals to meet. Once this rain turns to snow, the challenge increases exponentially. Before I can truly move myself into this next phase, I reflect on the pieces of my year that have fallen into place thus far, and I find myself quite thankful.
"Please" and "thank you" are words that I have been taught to use by my mother, but when life gets busy, I find myself uttering them less and less. We Gervais children, though well educated, are all a bit rough around the edges, but we can come up big when we need to.
At one of our last Thanksgiving dinners as a complete family, with seven of the eight chairs filled, we waited for our mom to sit down and say the blessing. She came in with eight baby loaves of bread and gave one to each of us. She explained that she wanted to try something a little different that year. She wanted each of us to focus on the bread and give thanks for something out loud. My mom broke tradition, and she caught the seven of us off guard.
Though devout in her religious beliefs, none of her brood shared her devotions. Nevertheless, strong in her convictions, my mom took the time to plan a touchy-feelie moment, and we could tell that she was dead serious about getting our attention. Our jaws dropped, but we all fell into line. No tears were shed. Then we chowed down. Nothing more was said about being thankful. My mom had made her gesture.
From time to time I still think of that little loaf of bread and my mom's lesson to us, her unruly children. She wanted us to realize how lucky we were to not only have the meal before us, but also to have our active lives. Growing up on a farm with parents who lived through the Great Depression, my mother didn't have the opportunities we all had before us. Our diverse interests kept her running ragged with little time to herself and, none of us seemed as appreciative as perhaps we should have been.
My 165 students run me ragged everyday. In general, it is a good kind of ragged. I nap most afternoons, just to recover. I think of that little loaf of bread now and focus on my good fortune. I have had a wonderful start to the school year. I am thankful for so many reasons, but I will share with you just a few.
I am thankful that I laugh every day. My students are funny, alive, curious and diverse. Though I have an elevated number of students to greet and get to know, my students show up ready to learn. Behavior problems, in general, have been more due to over-excitement than lack of interest. My students bring good energy into my life at the same rate they seem to take energy from me. Most of all my students inspire me to do a better job. Their enthusiasm inspires me to dream up challenging activities and be creative in my daily work. I am thankful to them all.
Mostly, I am thankful to my mom for taking a risk in front of her tough audience. She was my role model as a young woman. She is still my touchstone and my inspiration for being a better person.
Mary-Lou Gervais is a math teacher at Juneau-Douglas High School.
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