A Star Student’s Most Important Lesson

I was weary after 20 years of teaching. Until I was reminded why my job mattered.

by - Posted on Jul 19, 2016

A Star Student’s Most Important Lesson

Summer vacation. For most of my 20 years as a teacher, that was my time to relax by the pool. So why was I standing in the schoolyard of an unfamiliar school, supervising recess, wearing myself out for a summer teaching job? The extra paychecks were nice, but I lacked the energy of my younger colleagues. Like Stella. She was in her early twenties, and made keeping up with the kids look effortless. She reminded me of myself, back when I was a bright-eyed student teacher at Ramona Elementary…

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I’d never forget my first day. I was too full of energy. Nervous energy. My supervising teacher was watching, and I wanted to make a good impression. I asked my third graders to take out their crayons for the day’s lesson. All of them obeyed. Except one. A girl with two long, dark braids. Everyone called her Estrellita, or “little star.” Why was she unprepared for class? I demanded to know.

“My sister has my crayons,” she said.

“You should each have your own crayons,” I told her. “That’s no excuse.”

“There are 10 children in my family,” Estrellita said quietly, her big brown eyes never leaving my face. “We have to take turns.”

I was taken aback. I’d completely misjudged the situation. All day Estrellita’s words played on my mind. The next morning I bought a pack of crayons to leave on Estrellita’s desk. She was so happy! That experience taught me an important lesson. Every student had a unique set of challenges—it was my mission to help my students overcome them. That mission used to energize me.

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Recess was almost over. Stella turned to me and we started chatting. “How long have you been teaching?” she asked. I told her I’d started twenty years ago, at Ramona Elementary.

“I went to school there twenty years ago!” Stella said. I looked at her again, this time really seeing her. Those big brown eyes. That long, dark hair…

“Did you used to have two long braids?” I said. “We called you Estrellita…”

Stella gasped. “You! You gave me the crayons!”

She’d become a teacher. To help students like I did. Even doing something that small… it mattered.

That summer, I threw myself into teaching with a renewed sense of purpose. Estrellita had taught me a lesson once again.  

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