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Loss, Love, & Learning: No Test Can Measure This

May 6, 2011


I write today with a heavy heart and many, many tears as our school community mourns the loss of a student’s mother and the loss of another student’s grandmother.  As I was about to publish a post earlier this week that makes a case for public schools in small, rural areas, our school learned of the loss of a precious life much before her time.

As a faculty, we have experienced losses over the years…  former teachers, fellow faculty members, students and other members of our school family.  We have some pretty amazing students who have lost a parent before.  And, as a faculty, we’ve done our best to help carry them through during their time in school.

Today was particularly difficult given its paradoxical nature.  The day began first in my son’s first grade classroom for a Mother’s Day breakfast during which each student read a story about their mothers.  Of course, when my son read his story about me, I cried.  Most moms in the room cried while theirs was read, too, so I was far from the lone sap.  We passed a box of tissues around the classroom.  I cried again.  And, I cried some more.  And, it didn’t stop.

I cried both out of pride and guilt.  Guilt because while I celebrated the joy of my own child, I would have to leave this setting and lead my Student Council Organization officers into a funeral service in support of a fellow Student Council member who has just lost her mother. And, Mother’s Day is but two days away.

The crying didn’t stop here.


As the day continued on, the motivation behind the tears again turned to pride as I watched many of our students.  While I’ve always known we have great students at our school, what I witnessed and experienced in this room was an overwhelming sense of community.  I caught sight of it earlier in the week as students approached me and suggested we send flowers, send food, and attend the services.

They took care of each other.

They consoled each other.

They talked.  They listened.

They hugged.  They cried.

And, so did I.

All adversities were forgotten amongst students.  They were not segregated.  They were not jocks, or band members, or Student Council members.  They were students.  They were friends.  They were our school family.  And, we all found a lot of comfort in knowing that this student has an amazing, supportive family that will carry her and her sister through such a difficult time.

No doubt, the behavior, love, respect, and support displayed by our students today began within their homes and their own family.  Today made me ever more aware that an entire other family and community exists within our school.


There is no textbook that can teach this and there certainly is no test that can measure or assess the power in the room.  But, I assure you, these students learned today.  They learned a little more about what participation in community means.  One student was nervous and unsure of what to do, or say.  I explained what was appropriate.  I modeled it. And then, we did it together.  I taught some very different lessons today.  Hopefully, that will extend to an increased motivation to be more civically aware and participatory in the future.

Because caring about each other matters.

Doing the right thing matters.  Always.  Even when it is incredibly difficult and uncomfortable.

Because as teachers, caring about our students matters.  Forgive my boldness, but if you do not truly care, you shouldn’t be a teacher.  Period.  As my friend Vicki always says, “Teaching is a noble calling.  Be noble!” And, today I learned it pays dividends.

Teaching is the most noble calling on earth.
So be noble.
Act noble.
Live noble.
Do what is right.

Because today, there was a moment of clarity during which it was evident that my students know that I really care.  And, I do.  I learned again today how important it is to care.  When I returned to my classroom completely deflated, exhausted and emotionally spent, wondering where on earth I’d forge the energy to get through the rest of the day, the following email was sitting in my inbox from a student who has been on an extended leave from school,

Mrs Nestico… It’s been a little while since I’ve been gone….  I was talking the one day to [another student] about a book of yours that he borrowed. Obviously, then,  I wasn’t living my life in a positive way.  I wasn’t making the right decisions and I’m completely aware of the damage I have done to myself and to the people around me. I’m really trying to set my life straight and get my life together strictly because I want to. I’m sick of hurting other people, doing things I am not proud of.  I always felt like I could talk to you about this, especially after hearing what [the other student] had shared with me. I plan on coming back to class within the next week or so and I plan on taking things more seriously. I really appreciate how you were always redirecting me, I know it was for the better.  I plan on working hard in your class, as well as all of my teacher’s classes. Thanks again. See ya soon.

I learned today how much caring matters.  I learned today that in the end, my students really do appreciate it.  I learned today that despite how much I argue in favor of the significance of my online relationships, there will always be some things that can not and will not ever take the place of face-to-face teaching and learning.  I learned today how very important it is to be real and to be human with my students.  Every day, I continue to learn how passion-driven teaching positively impacts those around me.

Through adversity comes strength to trudge onward.  There can be no greater gift during teacher appreciation week.

So Mr. Governor, as you continue on in your attempts to offer school choice and privatize public education in our state, consider the kids above.  I’ve nothing against private and/or charter schools.  But here, students really have no choice.  There is only one other school nearby and it is religious.  That excludes many students from having any choice at all.  This is what community looks like in a rural school.  We are the choice.  Can you really take this away?

May you now rest in sweet peace LBG.  We will do our best to help your babies through.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 7, 2011 1:43 AM

    A wonderful tribute to your students and to your community… or rather communities. The world needs more caring, (and vocal), teachers like you!
    Thanks for sharing,

    • May 7, 2011 8:17 AM

      Thank you for your kind words, David. I had to learn over the years how much simply caring about students impacts them. When we care, the students do, and ultimately they learn more – content or otherwise. I wish they would have done more to tell me that in college, but I suppose it isn’t something that can just be taught.


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