Saturday, May 28, 2011


“We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us something is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit.”

- E.E. Cummings

Yesterday, something happened that I cannot stop thinking about.

I wound up being at the same school for the final student of the month award ceremony. Since October, I’d attended every single one, even though I had thought March would be my last one. Then April. The difference for May is that I'd be handing out awards for 6th-grade ELA (English Language Arts) instead of 7th and 8th-grade Social Studies.

The ELA teacher was out for two weeks because of illness, and I covered her classes nearly every single day. It was eye opening for me. I had fun coming up with lessons and hanging the students’ work on the walls. Since I love writing, it’s not a stretch to consider being an ELA teacher. But I hadn’t taught 6th-graders much, so it was an adjustment getting use to their level of maturity. And they had to adjust to me as their teacher instead of just a babysitter. After about 5 days, I felt like I’d always been with them.

It was kind of cool that several of the students were younger siblings of the students I’d just taught as an ETS (Extended Term Substitute).

For the ceremony, I e-mailed the teacher to find out whom to give the awards to. One student she picked made me pause.

I had her older brother when I was an ETS. He’s given up.

Her family's story is one of poverty and addiction.

Before this, I’d only noticed her when she was acting up, which was often.

These two weeks I’d taught her, she was nothing but lovely and hard working.

A few teachers handed out awards. Then we took a break for a speaker. Before we resumed the awards, another teacher came over to say this student was being dismissed.

I was disappointed. She was losing her moment.

“Wait,” I told her, and then picked up her certificate from the stage.

I held it in my hands. “Ms. ***** chose you to receive this award. But I want you to know, after working with you for these past two weeks, I’m not surprised she chose you. You’ve been a conscientious and hard-working student. You deserve this award.”

I handed her the certificate.

She stared at it. She looked up at me. “Thank you,” she whispered.

Then she put her arms around me. I hugged her back. She didn’t give me a quick hug. It was an embrace. Tears pricked my eyes.

Later, I found out she went to the office to meet her mother. She showed everyone her award as she beamed.

How many times had she sat in that auditorium, watching 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students receive congratulations for their work in ELA, Science, Math, Social Studies, Art, Music, Spanish, and Physical Education? How many times did she think she’d never stand up there, shaking hands and high-fiving teachers while music played?

How many times did she think she wasn’t that kind of student? That kind of person?

How many people from her background go to college? How many achieve the kind of the success their parents couldn’t muster because of addiction?

I wanted her to know for the short time I got to spend with her that she’s worthy.

I hope she believes it.

Damn, it takes no time at all for these children possess me. I miss them already.


  1. That's awesome. And you've got to hope that the memory of this great experience inspires her to go on and succeed. Because it is these kind of moments that do inspire people on. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Nothing like a hug from a child. This is another awesome post from an awesome writer. Thanks for sharing this lovely experience with us, Theresa.

  3. Oh Theresa. You made me cry. A great thing, you've done here. It could be the one thing this student needs to stay on the right track. We live and learn but its great to have a teacher who believes in you. Nice work lady.

  4. I love this...If you were next to me I'd give you a hug too. It's teachers like you that make a difference.

  5. Awesome post! I'm glad you shared the experience with all of us.

  6. I'm so glad you didn't let that girl miss her moment! It sounds like it meant more to her than we can even know.

  7. Ah, Theresa,you are indeed a true teacher. thanks so much for sharing this. We all need affirmation, but it's so especially important when these kids are young and struggling.


  8. It just goes to show what a caring and dedicated teacher you are, to show a student who could easily fall through the cracks how important and valuable she is. I love that you could do this for her!

  9. You made me tear up with this! Anyone who gives to a child has a permanent place in my heart. :)

  10. This will be a treasured memory for her. She will know that on one day, a special teacher gave her something so precious. Thank you for sharing this.

  11. She'll remember that always, and you never know, it may make a massive difference to her life. Well done you - it's lovely you connected with her and saw that she had her moment in the spotlight.

  12. Hi Theresa .. you'll both hold each other in your hearts for a long time - and you'll both use the experience as a teaching element = that's wonderful.

    No wonder they're under your skin .. they are special, as are you for recognising the hope in them ..

    I sure hope your talent is recognised with a permanent position soon ... the kids of this world deserve a conscientious teacher like you.

    Very worthy are you ... with lots of happy thoughts this weekend .. Hilary

    PS thanks for coming over to my blog - now you've got yours sorted out and I hope blogger sorts itself out soon .. and doesn't cause you any more drama ...

  13. Such a lovely post, she will keep that moment and I really hope she can succeed against the odds.
    I agree with your other commenters, someone give this teacher a permanent job, you are needed!!

  14. Theresa Milstein!! You teachers are the best!! You are just so lovely! I just know your kindness and consideration as her teacher (and her other teacher who recommended her) has helped her confidence and her sanity! I hope she hangs on to these memories and use them to give her more courage to do really really well in life!!

    I'm with everyone here too - please powers that be give fabulous and wonderful Theresa Milstein a permanent teaching post!! Yay! take care

  15. What an amazing story! Thank you so much for posting about it.

    I, too, hope that you get a permanent job! You certainly deserve it.

  16. Hey Theresa! Lovely story, really emotive. I really admire teachers like you! :D
    And thx for stopping by my blog! You're right, Blogger has eaten all the followers today! LOL

  17. It's important for everyone, especially children, to have someone believe in them.

    There's no way of knowing just how much you helped that little girl but I know you made a difference.


  18. Wow, that's amazing. And you know what? These kids impact you, and you impact them more than you know. They're lucky to have you.

  19. Beautiful story. You've given that student a moment she'll never forget. And that's amazing. :)

  20. Oh Theresa, this is beautiful. I have a huge lump in my throat now! :)

  21. Wonderful story!! I bet she still has that certificate and those memories years from now. You never really know how much that bit of encouragement can help someone! Good for you!!!! :)

  22. What an incredible way to touch someone's life. That kind of encouragement can do so much good.

  23. You deserve an award for being such a caring, involved teacher.


  24. That's so fantastic, Theresa. You've certainly made a big difference in her life already - I'm sure the moment you gave her the certificate will remain in her mind for a long time.

  25. Wow, Theresa. I got all teary eyed reading this. You have probably made a HUGE difference in this girl's life. Sometimes all it takes a little vote of confidence to make someone believe in themself. I hope your wonderful gesture pays off and that the girl truly believes she deserves it.

  26. It takes no time at all for these kids to possess me.

    This statement makes you a teacher. A good teacher. A great teacher. Your compassion and caring shine through in this post. You should be very proud of yourself. I know I am very proud of you. I wouldn't be surprised if you won Teacher of the Year at least 10 times in your career.

  27. That's wonderful that you singled her out for praise like that. I'm sure she'll remember that moment - and you - forever. People always remember acts of kindness like that, especially because they can help us deal with all the other not-so-great stuff going on in our lives.

  28. I hope this is the beginning of something wonderful for that student. I hope she'll overcome her familial background of poverty and addiction. She'll certainly remember you and the award for the rest of her life.

    We had our awards ceremony last week. I enjoyed seeing students glow with pride.

  29. What a touching story. Thanks for sharing, and I hope you get your own class soon. You deserve it.

  30. Thanks for sharing this awesome post with us. You make difference to all your students life. You are a fantastic person.

  31. This is a beautiful heartfelt post. How wonderful to give encouragement to this child. May she find the inspiration she needs to go onto college and success.

    How much longer before you get a contract, or whatever you call it in the US? In Oz, being a 'supply' teacher is your own choice. A good 'supply' teacher would be offered a contract, then permanency. Someone like you would have had a permanent job ages ago. Not sure how your system works...


  32. Yay! Yay! YAY!!! Teachers WIN! Hooray for great teachers, and this is exactly what I'm talking about. That child will never forget that moment when you told her she could.

    Aweseome. Great work, T~ :o) <3

  33. I'm so glad you were able to give her the certificate. It made both of your days that much better. Since I've started back to work in the financial industry, the kids are what I miss most. I subbed at one particular school, and I think about the kids often.

  34. Thats wonderful. She'll remember that forever, and the feeling that went with it. No one can take that away. I hope you get a permanant position soon Theresa.

  35. I just got teary-eyed. I'm sure she will remember that forever, and it may give her the confidence to achieve what she never believed possible.

  36. I just got misty-eyed. Thank you for this beautiful post :)

  37. I love EE Cummins quotes. Great post. Confidence can help raise us to new levels we never dreamed possible. Have a great week!

  38. So inspiring. What a wonderful thing you did for her, making sure she got her moment. Maybe it's going to turn out to be one of those life-changing moments for her. I hope so.

  39. That was so sweet of you Theresa! Thanks for sharing such a touching story.

  40. @ Natalie, I really hope she does. I see others in her life giving up, but I think she's got a chance.

    @ Len, that hug was the best thing that happened all week. In fact, it was one of my best teacher moments.

    @ Talei, I hope she continues to have teachers who believe in her and I really hope she believes in herself.

    @ Elena, thank you. I appreciated the virtual hug.

    @ KarenG, there's nothing like writing about something important to help me process it.

    @ Susan Fields, I wish I were at the school today so I could remind the other students about her award.

    @ Linda, you said it exactly right. They're looking for positive feedback. They need it.

    @ RosieC, thank you. I'm glad the other teacher recognized her. I hope this girl keeps it up!

    @ Susan Kaye Quinn, thank you. That means a lot.

    @ Margo, I hope this girl keeps this in mind and stays on the right path.

    @ Jayne, thanks. Even though I wasn't in charge of choosing who got the award, I was happy I could tell her I thought she deserved it.

    @ Hilary, thank you for such a thoughtful comment.

    Now I'm behind on blogging because I've been bogged down with a cold!

  41. That's amazing! Never underestimate the influence we can have in our own little world. So glad you shared this story. :)

  42. What a beautiful story. I have a sneaking suspicion she will never forget this moment, and I hope it inspires her further :)

  43. This is such a beautiful story. I think its those little things--those moments of kindness--that make the biggest difference in people's lives.

  44. Ohh, this brought tears to my eyes. The world needs more teachers like you.

  45. It's true. Sometimes all it takes is one person to believe in you, to push you forward. It really CAN make a HUGE difference. Good for you. Sending YOU a big hug from France. And I'm not even the huggy type!

  46. This is so sweet, and such a nice story. Hopefully this girl will be spared from dealing with the addictions her brother has dealt with.

  47. @ Brigid, I hope for this girl too.

    And I hope the extended term sub position + the fact they keep requesting me to sub at the school is a good sign.

    @ Old Kitty, I hope this girl keeps this certificate in mind when she feels like giving up.

    Moments like that really make me wish I got to teach students like her full time.

    @ The Golden Eagle, I've been hesitant to share too many work stories since I've been in the same place, but this one stuck with me.

    @ Monica BW, thanks for the comment. I think Blogger is finally back to normal (knock on wood).

    @ Liz, thank you.

    @ Jai Joshi, I remember craving positive feedback as a kid. Big compliments can go a long way.

    @ Julie, I hope I impact them. As a sub, it feels like I only get to do so much.

    @ Jennifer, I'll never forget it either. When I think of the look on her face and the embrace, my eyes well up.

  48. What an inspirational post my friend. So many worthy students are over looked and I know your compassion just left a beautiful, pay it forward scar on that child. :)
    Sorry was out for the holiday.
    Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

  49. @ Niki, thank you very much.

    I love your new picture.

    @ Jemi, I hope you're right. I know there's much change going on in that girl's life right now.

    @ Meredith, I hope she's still proud this week.

    @ Bru, thank you. What a sweet thing to say.

    @ Talli, I hope so. That girl deserves some positives in her life.

    @ Jessica, I'm glad I was able to say something positive to her even though I didn't get to decide who got the award. I expected her to have some problem days, but for the two weeks she was just lovely.

    @ Anne, thank you for saying such nice things. To get this teacher of the year award, I'd better officially get my own classroom!

    @ Neurotic Workaholic, it's interesting to see them at this age. They're not jaded yet, for the most part. They still have a shot to overcome so much if they can make school a priority. I wish more at-risk students let school, especially academics, be their refuge.

    @ Medeia, thanks for the comment.

    It's fun seeing the various reactions to the awards. Whether shy or excited, pride is always in there somewhere.

  50. I'm not sure I can add anything that hasn't already been said. Wonderful moment! Thank you for sharing ☺

  51. @ Cinders, thank you for the sweet comment.

    @ Nas, I hope I'm making a difference. Thanks for the kind words.

    @ L'Aussie, thank you. I wish it worked that way here. Each school is independent. And even if they like me, they still have to make me interview when a job opens. And on top of that, the middle school is being condensed into the school I've been working at. If a job opens, many of those in the closing middle schools may want to shift into it.

    @ LTM, thanks for the cheers. I hope she never forgets that moment. Not because of me, but because she believes in herself.

    @ Miranda, we quickly get attached. And burned out too, which is why we need a big break in the summer! Good luck on your new career path.

    @ Words A Day, I wish her success too. Thank you for the kind comment.

    @ Missed Periods, thank you for the lovely comment. I hope the girl gains confidence too.

    @ Jess, you're welcome and thank you.

    @ Stephen, I thought the quote was perfect for the post. Thank you. I hope your'e having a great week too!

  52. @ Susanna, if she doesn't have a life changing moment from this, I hope she gets one soon for the good.

    @ Deniz, thank you for the nice comment.

    @ Karen, it's easier to have influences on a smaller number of people. Let's hope the impact is greater when we do.

    @ Joanne, thank you. I hope so too.

    @ Lynda, I know it's the moments when teachers weren't thinking about their impact (positively and negatively) that stuck with me the most.

    @ Girl Friday, thank you very much for the nice comment.

    @ Samantha, thank you for the thoughtful comment. And the virtual hugs. First, I wasn't a big hugger either, but the students and bloggers have forced me to like them!

    @ Angela, I hope she is spared the addictions. Luckily, her brother hasn't succumbed to addiction either. He's given up academically.

    @ Jules, so good to hear from you. I hope you had a good holiday. Thanks for the kind comment.

    @ Elembee, thank you for commenting. Teaching is all about moments, isn't it?

  53. This post bought tears to my eyes. I'm so glad you went through with giving her the award even though it was going to taken away. Sounds likes she needs someone to believe in her.

  54. what an empowering thing to do. I've no doubt that student will forever remember that moment. I'm sure it'll change her life for the better. Hurray for teachers like you!

  55. I love your touching teaching stories. I miss teaching a lot. The connections with the students, watching the light bulb go off.
    Now that my son will be a first grader all day next fall, I hope to teach again!

  56. How wonderful for the student and for you as the presenter. There's a story in all of that.

  57. This is the power of being a teacher! I hope with all my heart that she hangs on to that award and pursues her dreams and doesn't give up.

  58. It is obvious that you are making a difference and that is what teaching is about. WTG!

    Many of my babies are on facebook...I love chatting to them and sending and getting emails from them.

    Teachers really do matter...from one teacher to another....The more you give your kiddos the bigger your heart gets. :)

  59. Great story and i can only imagine how it must feel to impact a kid's life.

  60. @ Stina, I was sad she couldn't stay to receive it, but at least she knows it's hers.

    @ Nutschell, I hope it changes for her in the long run. I know she has a lot going on right now.

    @ Kelly, good luck returning to teaching. What grade did you teach?

    @ Carol, I shared as much as I could about the story, but maybe some part of it will pop up in a fiction piece. Never know.

    @ Margo, I hope for her too, and the many like her I fear will fall through the cracks.

    @ Sharon, I can't believe how many children I think about, both past and present. What it must be like after a long career!

    I won't friend any FB students until they're 18. My school district may even have a policy about that. The grammar and cursing from my nephew is all I can take!

    @ Travis, it's a great feeling. I've also had time when I wished I'd done more.

  61. This is a tremendous post. I agree that people don't give kids a chance to reach their potential. Sometime they act out because negative attention is better than no attention at all. I think that is great that she finally got her moment. Sometimes that is all the boost that they need. :) *hugs* you are wonderful!

  62. @ Regina, thank you. This poor girl has a lot of reasons to act out, so it was wonderful to see her keeping it together for so many days, and then to be rewarded.