Teaching is undoubtedly a taxing career. There are days that chip away at my resolve and I start to question everything. It’s the days when I work 16 unpaid hours on the weekend just to keep my head above water. It’s the days when what I think are brilliant lesson plans end up in chaotic confusion or even worse…a sea of blank stares. It's the days when the “friendly” reminder box on our online learning platform cheerfully informs me that I have 312 assignments waiting to be graded. It’s the days when students seem bored or tired and complain about everything—even when I’ve poured my best efforts into making the lessons engaging. It’s the days when the State Board of Education adds yet another requirement, another hoop we have to jump through. These are the days when my youthful optimism, my passion for this amazing profession, starts to fade.
One of my college professors once told us to keep a desk drawer full of positive memories—reminders of why we chose teaching. She said to fill the drawer with notes from students, creative projects, evidence of progress. She wanted us to have a space to reflect on those small, everyday victories. Now that I’m nearly 10 years into this career, this is one of the best pieces of advice I've ever received. When I feel trapped under the weight of one of “those days,” I open the drawer and celebrate the victories, re-read the notes, review the progress, and remind myself that all of this matters. Even when I don’t feel it, I teach because it matters.
This story is one of those “desk drawer” moments. It’s a memory I will keep filed within me forever. It may be a small moment, but it had an incredible impact on the teacher I am today.
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It’s the last day of finals week. There’s just one more exam standing between my students and summer break. The rays of June sun make the classroom uncomfortably warm and the unconditioned air is starting to get stale. Pencils scratch vigorously across the exam pages as students carefully craft each sentence. I sit at the teacher’s desk, monitoring their progress. I watch as they furrow their brows in concentration. Occasionally, they pause to sigh, look out the window, or stretch cramped hands. They may not realize it, but I am thinking about their futures. I wonder where they will be next year, in four years, as adults? Did anything we learned this year really matter? Are they even going to remember?
It’s been just over an hour, and I notice several students are getting close to finishing—a moment I’ve been waiting for and dreading all at the same time. Of course I want the exam to be over, who wouldn’t? But the fact is, when it’s over, the school year is over. They walk out of my classroom for the last time. This particular combination of people together in this space will in all likelihood never happen again. I swallow the lump in my throat, trying my best to keep it together. How embarrassing would it be to cry at a final exam—especially an exam I’m not even taking!
The first student approaches my desk, holding out her exam paper. I glance quickly through it, making sure she has completed all the sections. When I look up, she smiles and places a shiny red apple on my desk.
“Thanks for being my teacher,” she speaks softly so as not to disturb the others.
My face crinkles into a smile. Her gift was such a sweet gesture. I love apples and am inspired by the symbolic and historic significance of the gift. It seems to add a sense of closure, to make the good-bye a little easier as she packs her book bag and takes that first step outside the classroom door.
Less than five minutes later the second student approaches my desk. As I check through his exam for completion, he brings his hand from behind his back and holds out an apple.
“Thanks for a great year.”
Smiling, I take the apple and place it beside the first. How delightful that two students had the exact same idea.
The third student soon comes forward—test in one hand and an apple in the other.
“Thank you, Ms. Lewis.” He puts the apple beside the other two.
Then the fourth student comes, then the fifth, and just as before, they each bring an apple. There’s no longer any doubt in my mind—this shower of apples has been carefully planned, an orchestrated clockwork of student scheming. As the pile of fruit continues to grow, my heart swells with gratitude and love for these kids. My eyes well with tears as the final student places an apple on my desk.
“Have a great summer, Ms. Lewis. I’m going to miss you.”
That did it. I’m officially crying now. She walks out of the room and it’s just me and 15 apples piled on my desk.
Though the work of teachers is intrinsically rewarding, we don’t always receive such a tangible expression of thanks from our students. I realize how immensely grateful I am to have this group of students in my life and what a gift it’s been to be their teacher. I pick up the nearest apple, smiling at the sparkling cascade of school year memories. It’s going to be a long time before I can eat an apple without thinking of that final day of finals with such an incredible class.
For all those days when I might feel like teaching was a mistake, this desk drawer moment reminds me it has been more than worth it.
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