In Praise of Selfishness

You may recall that last week was pretty lousy around here. Needing to end the week on an up-note, I added a last-minute modification to my Friday lesson plan, a move guided purely by self-interest. As it turned out, the plan worked – my funk is officially over.

We’re elbow-deep in poetry and Friday was meant to be filled with a short How to Haiku lesson that I’d run out of time to use on Thursday. These kids, though, were taught haiku way back in third grade and really don’t want to write yet another poem about a leaf or a pebble. Instead, I spent a few seconds reminding them of the pattern, scrapped the nature photos, and assigned them to write a haiku in honor of an adult in our school district – it could be anyone but me. Fifteen minutes later, the Quarter Trio teams were done with their creations and I enjoyed snapping shots of their work. Their poems (some sweet, some funny) were charming.
During my lunch break, I sent a bunch of emails (it was easy to find email addresses within our district’s GMail system) that included this copy-and-pasted message and the relevant photo as an attached file:

Hey fellow district staffer,
As part of a poetry assignment I gave my classes today, students wrote haiku poems (yup – the good ol’ 5 syllable/7 syllable/5 syllable pattern) in honor of an adult they admire. You, apparently, left an impression that inspired my freshmen. Attached you will find their work. Think of it as a little early holiday cheer!
Thanks for being awesome,
Laura Randazzo,
Your fellow teacher in the trenches

Good deed done, I felt great as I tucked into my turkey sub. Then, something unexpectedly delightful happened. An hour after hitting that last “send” button, I came back to my laptop and this is a screenshot of what my email basket looked like:


Whoa. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one in need of some appreciation last week.

The 17th-century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes was critical of people like me, folks who are motivated by self-interest to take on altruistic tasks. But I’d counter that this is just a win-win, where one tired teacher has helped lift herself by buoying a whole crew of other tired teachers. I say, let’s be selfish. Make someone else feel good so you’ll feel good, too.

Teach on, everyone!

17 thoughts on “In Praise of Selfishness

  1. Indeed, TheWalkingPencil. I was blown away by the volume of gratitude. Even more notes trickled in the rest of day, making me wonder why this has to be such a thankless job. Folks need strokes!

  2. As a student, I am grateful to the teachers who make an effort to teach but I guess we just don’t say it, really, till it’s time to leave.

  3. If teachers are the best thieves, then count me among the guilty. I’m SOOOOOO going to use this!

  4. Maybe it’s time to change that, eh? Just one email might be what a beleaguered teacher needs to make it happily through this next week…

  5. And the goodness spreads, mstee1220. My devious plan is working!

  6. What a great idea! Thank you for sharing, Laura! I am definitely stealing this idea to brighten my colleagues’ day. We are always looking for ways to boost morale in our building, and this will be a timely boost around the holidays. And, in the spirit of selfishness, please don’t EVER stop blogging! 🙂

  7. Ah, Michelle, your note made me smile, another win-win! And I selfishly love this little blog, too – it’s my necessary mental floss.

  8. Hmm, I’ll see… Also, what kind of gifts do teachers like at the end of the year, honestly? I mean there’s a lot of presents I get, but only one or two that I ever actually liked.

  9. Great question, WalkingPencil. I can’t speak for my colleagues, but I love the really sincere notes, the ones that mention a specific incident or inside joke. I keep those in a “crappy day” file and re-read them once or twice a year when I need to remember that there were a few students who really “got” my class. A small gift card is always appreciated, too, as pretty much every teacher is broke. If you’re torn between the $5 box of chocolates and a $5 coffee shop gift card, go for the gift card. There’s only so much chocolate a person can eat in a month before regret and loathing set in, anyway. Hope this helps! 🙂

  10. I forgot to ask: Did you include pictures of the students with their haiku when you sent them or did you include only their names in the email ? Most of the students in our building are not allowed to be photographed, etc.,. I guess I’ll have to talk to my principal about the logistics. *sigh* Thank you!

  11. Aw, this made my eyes water (in a good way)! Sometimes it is easy to lose focus when we are “in the trenches.” How nice that you could end the week in such a positive way! Great idea! Sometimes the best ideas come from being spontaneous and flexible. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  12. Great, SimplyPutSincerelyUs! I love hearing that teachers are crying happy tears. A nice change, no?

  13. Hey Michelle,
    The poems were completely anonymous – I didn’t share the students’ names or faces with the recipients. The photos I sent are cropped exactly the same as the samples I shared. I told the kids that they could write the poem for a favorite former teacher, any staff member (one team wrote to our nighttime custodian), or any adult they felt could just use a little pick-me-up. One group wanted their faces in the shot, but every other team liked the anonymous/nameless approach. I also liked the mystery of not knowing. More fun that way, eh? 🙂

  14. So awesome and appropriate for around the holidays! I have 26 sophomore honors students and so I used it in conjunction with the 26 Acts of Kindness movement that came about in response to Sandy Hook. The kids were kind of shy at first, but then really embraced it. Thanks again!

  15. So timely, Courtney. Great idea! I was just reading some Sandy Hook updates last night. Hard to believe that three years have gone by, but it feels like so little has changed.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: