With back-to-school just around the corner, week of 8/14 in Arkansas, I wanted to share some experiences that I have had over the past few weeks. There are often times that we can lose sight of the important aspects of why we entered the profession in the first place. I framed this post around a “ghost of Christmas” theme based on the interactions that I have had with past, present, and future students.

Back-to-School Present

This morning while I was sorting through lockers to determine which ones worked and which ones didn’t, probably one of my least glamorous duties, I discovered the note pictured above in an abandoned locker. It was a bottom locker and the note was tucked away on the very back wall towards the top. Two things stood out to me about this note, the first is that this student spent quite a bit of thought on this note and the second was that the note was only intended to be seen by the person that inherited this particular locker. Nothing over the top, nothing meant for the entire public, but rather intended to convey the particular experience and gratitude that one student experienced to another that is now standing in the same shoes. Furthermore, the cool thing about this note was that it is from a student that is not leaving our building, but rather moving from the 7th to the 8th grade. While the first half of her experience at our school was enjoyable, we hope that we continue to add to her perception of Woodland.

As we prepare for the back-to-school session, it is very easy to get bogged down in the amount of work that needs to be completed before students arrive, the stress that we experience in this time crunch, and other frustrations that we may experience. However, every once in a while you come across reminders of what motivates us to be educators. This note, along with other experiences over the past few weeks, have provided those reminders to me and help me put into perspective my role as an educator. This helps provide me with the necessary fuel to keep working for our students.

Back-to-School Past

Over the past few weeks I have had a series of run-ins with former students. I always feel like I get a lot out of these conversations that I have with students because I enjoy catching up and learning about their current endeavors. One particular interaction I had was with a former student that came to our schedule-up night with a younger family member. It had been about 7 years since I had last seen this student and needless to say that we have both changed over that time period…he had grown upward and I have grown outward. I recognized him right away, greeted him with a hug and started up a conversation. However, just a bit into the conversation he assumed that I didn’t know his name so he said “It’s Braden”, to which I replied “of course!” and replied by calling him by first and last name. His reaction really surprised me as he said “wow, thanks Mr. McClung, that means a lot”. This statement struck me as odd and awesome at the same time. He seemed very appreciative of the fact that he meant enough to me that I would remember his name. It really goes to show how much our connections with students matter, whether it is big or small. The interactions that we have with students may seem minor but they can have an impact that is hard to measure. No matter where I am at, when I encounter a former student, the smile that comes across my face is hard to contain. Whether it be at a car dealership, restaurant, airport, museum, in a pre-service program, sporting event, carnival, or even on vacation, it makes my day to spend time talking to students about where they are currently at in their journey in life. Taking the time to stop and listen to students is so important as an educator and can provide just as in return for the adults as it does for the kids. These are the interactions that are important to keep in mind as we prepare to make our first impressions on students for the 2017-2018 school year.

Back-to-School Future

To bring everything full circle, I will end where I started with the joys of preparing lockers for junior high students. For a task that is very menial, it was pretty amazing that it provided two great experiences for me in one day. Last night was our schedule pick-up night, which is one of my favorite nights of the school year. It is very much like the pre-season of any sporting league; everyone is excited after the off-season, there are new additions to the team, everyone has a new look (hair, clothes, growing up, etc.), and everyone has a chance to win the “big game” because each school year is a new beginning for everyone. One of the parts of the excitement, especially incoming 7th graders, is when students visit their newly assigned locker for the first time. However, there is the occasion when students are assigned a locker that doesn’t work properly or doesn’t quite meet their needs. The note below is from one of those particular families who needed a different locker. So this morning as I weeded through the requests for new lockers, I made the adjustments and notified parents. What I didn’t expect was to have such a positive response from the before mentioned menial task.

Mr. McClung,
Thank you! It may seem like a small thing, but I do believe you’ve worked a miracle in _____’s eyes. 🙂 Appreciate the prompt attention and the help! We are looking forward to an exciting new year in this next chapter for _____. As a parent, it’s always tough to face the reality of these kids growing up. I’m so thankful that the reality includes the environment that is FPS. 
This is the type of email that really makes you stop and take notice. It is a reminder of how even our smallest acts of giving can pay major dividends for those that are on the receiving end. As we enter in to the new school year it is important to focus on the aspect of the profession that matter the most, which is our service to students and their families. Our primary focus should always be service and providing the best experience, not just educational experience, for our families.This week has been just what I needed to get my mind right for the new school year. I hope you all have a great start to the year.
Joe McClung

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