It was my first full year of teaching and Christmas rolled around. All morning my desk filled up with bags and boxes from my students. A few of my students were asking me to open my gifts. They were just so excited! I wasn’t so sure about opening presents in front of my students, so I went to a colleague for advice. She told me, “Of course, I always opens my gifts in front of the students!”
Ok, I thought, if she does it then it must be okay. As I sat down in my chair, with my students all crowded around me on the rug, I had this gut feeling that what I was doing wasn’t right. Ignoring this slightly sickening feeling, I started opening the presents as the students oohed and aahed. As I was untying a ribbon, I noticed one of my students sneak back to his desk, returning to the rug with something in his hands.
I finished up the gifts and my students returned to their seats to work on a holiday activity. At that moment, the student whom I mentioned earlier, came up to me. He handed me 2 highlighters from his desk and said, “Here, I got you a Christmas present.” My heart dropped. Tears sprung to my eyes. His family couldn’t afford to get me a gift. He felt left left out of my public display of present opening and ashamed that he wasn’t a part of it. He wanted to feel special in my eyes.
I pulled myself together and genuinely thanked him for his wonderful gift. After the students went to lunch, I snuck the highlighters back into his desk. And I vowed, from that day forward, that I would never open gifts in front of my whole class again. This was my worst teacher moment. Ever.
I do have years where a student is a student is so proud and excited about what they got me, that they will beg for me to open their gift in front of them. I will take this student aside at recess or hold them back from their special for a few minutes and open it just in front of them. It’s a special moment just between the two of us and no feelings are hurt.
I think back to this moment every year when Christmas rolls around. It makes me appreciate all the little things that my students do for me. Every candy cane and homemade card is a sentiment from them showing me how much they care and appreciate what I do for them. I am touched by everything that they give me and save it all. On those particularly hard days, I open up this box and am reminded of why I do what I do.