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My college soccer coach used to tell us, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” He said it so often that we printed it on a T-shirt. At the time, I was a naive college kid who really didn’t sweat much at all, so the merit of the statement alluded me. However, as an adult, I finally get it. There’s lots to sweat about now, and I’m pretty good at it.
When we hit a certain age, the things we worry about don’t seem small anymore, so the sentiments of my soccer coach need to switch around a bit. Perhaps the saying should change to something like, “Celebrate the small stuff.” Like getting out of bed without a backache, or making it through a movie without falling asleep, or finding a good parking spot at Publix. It’s the little things that seem to matter as we get older.
Same goes for a classroom teacher.
Teachers are masters at celebrating the small stuff. It could be super small stuff like the way a brand new Expo marker writes on the whiteboard or Wednesday morning cheese grits in the cafeteria. It doesn’t take much to get a teacher’s motor going.
Especially when it comes to their struggling students.
I can explain it like this. It’s like that old Lays potato chips commercial that claimed no one could eat just one Lays potato chip. For the most part, they’re right. Most people don’t or won’t or can’t just eat a single chip. Oh, sure, it starts with only one chip, but I certainly have never seen someone put just one chip on their paper plate at a cookout. Most of us dig deep for at least a handful. Likewise, for most students, success is like that bag of Lays potato chips. Once a teacher can get them to taste one chip of success, they want the whole bag.
So, teachers celebrate those little crunches. Then, they watch as their kids empty the entire bag onto their paper plates, and before they know it, students are enjoying an all-you-can-eat buffet in Walmart’s chip aisle.
That’s what English Language Arts teacher Kimberley Porter does for her students at Lonnie Jackson Academy. She accentuates the positive and celebrates the small stuff, and by the time she’s done with them, students have overcome two or three grade level deficiencies in reading and writing.
Such success starts out small for Mrs. Porter and her students. It may look like a fourth-grade student who can barely write a first-grade sentence in August finally write a coherent paragraph in May. Or it might sound like a student who enters third grade struggling to read sight words finally reading an entire short story independently. Incremental, small improvements make all the difference in a child’s life. Teachers right the course for a student’s entire future, and most often, it begins with a single chip.
Imagine the impact teachers make in a child’s life when they can catch him up. So many of our students begin school behind the starting line and spend the next 12 years desperately running to catch up. They spend an entire public school career chasing the backs of their peers. Some quickly notice the pack running ahead and give up, never reaching the finish line. Others accept what they see as their lot in life and resolve to simply jog the rest of the race.
But then, somewhere along the way, a teacher like Mrs. Porter puts some Lays potato chips on their paper plate and offers them a taste of success, and the crunchy goodness overtakes them. Then, they lace up their shoes, give their legs a good stretch, and take off running, never looking back. Little by little, the distance between them and the pack decreases, until ultimately, they’re running alongside their peers.
That’s what a teacher like Mrs. Porter becomes to kids – ‘tater chip distributor, small stuff celebrator.
I just love teachers. What would we do without them?
Sheryl Green is a secondary educator in Columbus. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.