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The Iced Tea That Changed Everything

“We have your tea!  Don’t forget to grab it!”  Carrie, one of the cafeteria workers said to me with a smile as I walked downstairs to get my lunch.  Every day as she empties out the container and gets ready to throw out the leftovers, she puts some aside for me.  And every day I stop by to say hello, exchange pleasantries, and thank her for her kindness. 

One afternoon, I lingered a bit longer and said, “I just want you to know how nice it is you do this for me. It makes my day.”

I wasn’t expecting the reply I received: “You are the only person who stops and talks to us.” 

Seriously? I work with wonderful people who are collaborative, forward-thinking, and driven. They are kind and work hard for their students. I couldn’t get her comment out of my head. Do we really not stop and talk to our support staff?

As a result of this exchange, I decided to be more deliberate about watching what goes on around me, to see if I could notice what Carrie did. It didn’t take me long. It’s not that any of us who work in our school ignore each other or that we are cliquey or that we are arrogant. That’s not what Carrie meant. It’s that there is an air of busyness around us, and we don’t even notice the impact it has on all of us. I hadn’t noticed it until this moment. How embarrassing for me, but thank you, Carrie and your iced tea, for revealing it to me. 

There are nearly two thousand people in our building, and we are always moving. To class. To get food. To the bathroom. To a meeting. To drop off or pick up paperwork. We aren’t ignoring one another; we aren’t isolating ourselves in our rooms; we are just caught up in where we need to go and what we need to do next. We are overwhelmed. We have what feels like a million expectations coming at us every hour. We are tired. We scurry like worker bees, waving hello as we move on to our next task. We interact with each other, but we don’t see each other.

My exchange with Carrie got me thinking about all of the people who are important to the way that a school runs but whom we might not always see because of the chaos of the day. Or because they might be overshadowed by the academic focus of the school. When we think of a school, we think of students and teachers. We think of curriculum, books, science labs, and gym class. We think of homecoming, prom, and graduation. We don’t always think of people like Carrie who serves me food, or Wayne who empties my garbage can, or Dan who fixes the electricity when I blow a fuse.    

This reflection makes me realize that I love teaching because of the people who are behind the scenes. The people who feed our hungry children, who clean up after them when they are sick, who fix the Wi-Fi, who service the photocopier, who answer phones, who fix leaky sinks, who plow sidewalks.  The caring folks who come in on a Saturday to sanitize a first-grade classroom after an outbreak of a stomach virus. The ones who do all the things that make it possible for students and teachers to enter the building and focus on learning. Without these people, none of what teachers do in the classroom could happen. If my students are hungry, the garbage is overflowing, or the lightbulb doesn’t work, then it doesn’t matter what lesson I have planned for the day.

I love that there are people who come into my school every day, largely unrecognized, and do this work. I love that what they do is the foundation for everything good that happens in our school. I love that teaching is about more than just curriculum, books, science labs, and gym class.  

So, thank you, Carrie, for the iced tea. And thank you for the reminder that you give me every day that your work is what makes my work possible.  I see you, and I’m grateful that you see me, too.

 


Heidi Crumrine, the 2018 New Hampshire Teacher of the Year, is an English and reading teacher at Concord High School in Concord, New Hampshire. She has been teaching for 18 years, including three years in the New York City Public Schools.

She has a B.S. in family studies from the University of New Hampshire, an M.A.T. in English education from Teachers College, Columbia University, and an M.Ed. in reading instruction from Grand Canyon University.  She is a member of the National Council of Teachers of English, the National Network of State Teachers of the Year, National Education Association, and NEA-NH. Heidi’s writing is published in the monthly “Today’s Teacher” column in the Concord Monitor, Education Post, Heinemann, and the Teaching4Tomorrow blog. Heidi derives great joy in engaging with the students in front of her; she knows they are the best hope for the future.





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