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“At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.”

― Maya Angelou

When you’re a teacher standing with dozens of other teachers at a conference and you hear, “You were my teacher!”, you may not think someone is talking to you. I looked around to see the person who was saying, “You were my teacher!” and to my surprise, it was a former student of mine. She asked, “Do you remember me?” and told me her name, Mary C.. Suddenly, my mind flashed back to her as a little girl with her blond hair and glasses when she was in my 3rd Grade class. Of course I remembered her and I let her know! My mouth dropped open as our interaction took place because I truly felt astonished that she recognized me after not seeing each other for 23 years!

She shared that she has a specific memory of walking into my classroom as a child. Her dog had just died one morning and she remembered telling me the news that day. She said, “You opened your arms and you hugged me!” I did not remember that specific day but she did and she said it had impacted her and comforted her. That moment of showing her that I cared has forever been etched into her mind.

Mary is now a Media Specialist and was at the conference like me to keep learning all things related to educational technology. She shared an interesting comment too: “You look the same as when I was in your class.” Wow. I know I’ve aged but I still was recognizable in a sea of faces at the conference. She seemed to feel compelled to connect with me. I’m so glad she did.

I’ve been thinking about Mary this week and a quote from Maya Angelou:

“At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.”

I can say that Mary remembered feeling comforted on a day when her world changed and it was because of my actions. I think there is tremendous power in our actions as well as our words. It’s just so intriguing that Mary didn’t comment on what she remembered that I said but on how I made her feel with my open arms and hug.

I’m so happy that she had fond memories of our time together. I have heard from other students through the 31 years that I’ve been a teacher and noticed similarities to Mary’s story. They remembered how I made them feel.

I wonder if educators need to pause for a minute and let it sink in that we are making memories in the minds of kids, not just teaching standards to them. We’re prompting curious minds with our lessons and our reactions to them. If they’re having a bad day, then they’re already stimulated and saturated in negative feelings. When I as the teacher, notice their state of mind and support them with social and emotional learning prompts, I believe I can help.

I remember so much about that year with Mary. People would come from around my district to observe my Balanced Literacy Stations and small groups. They’d want to talk to me about how I set up my room and the materials that I used. Teachers love to learn and typically like to share what they’re doing to make a difference in exciting educational ways. I never realized that none of the things I had shared with other teachers would have had as lasting of an impact as the hug that I gave to Mary that day.

I have really enjoyed learning the Capturing Kids Hearts program during this school year as it has guided me on how to communicate well to students and to encourage them to make choices based on their shared social contract. One of my favorite things to do is to have them Tell Me Something Good. It’s when they will share something important to them that has happened at school or home but they want to share and be heard. It’s like we as the audience are welcoming them with open arms to be seen and heard.

Mary remembered my open arms and my hug in our class that day when she arrived with a broken heart. Even after 20 years, it was the first thing she told me. I believe that Maya Angelou is right. They will remember how we make them feel.

We have to connect with students at their emotional level so that they will feel that their basic emotional needs matter and then they’ll be able to learn, participate, create and collaborate with others. I hope to continue to open my heart and welcome my students each day so that they will know that they matter and that I care.

Do you have a favorite memory of a grade school teacher? If so, let me know in the comments.

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