Every year, around Thanksgiving, I tried to get my students thinking about giving thanks, as many teachers – especially ELA teachers – often do. In many cases in my suburban school district, it is an easy sell, and usually, it is “family and friends” that are most often cited as the objects for this thankfulness. And for many students, it is true enough: those who have at least one parent who watches over them, prods them when needed, and compliments them on effort, not just success; those who have at least one friend who hasn’t sold them out, who seems to be interested in what they have to say – a friend who doesn’t only do all the talking but actually listens. How lucky they are when they don’t have to think very much about their answer, and it actually is true!
And yet at the same time, there are too many students who are actually thinking hard about being thankful, ending up writing “family and friends” but struggling to mean it, and you know it. The students who have a big red X on Genesis indicating that one parent COULD NOT pick them up, ever. Students who don’t see a parent anymore, ever. Students whose parents have recently died. Students who struggle with health issues – their own or those of parents or siblings: cancer, recently diagnosed chronic illness, autism. Lots of autism.
There are students writing these post-its whose friends have abandoned them, or only speak to them at school, or are mean mean mean – or who, perhaps, are mean themselves, because they’ve never figured out how not to be, and thus push their classmates away.
There is food insecurity, and homelessness, or temporary living with grandparents before another move to another state, and struggles to make new friends all over again.
While many students appear to carry on with their daily lives, there is so much hidden inside. And there are just so many of them.
And so as I introduced this little thankfulness exercise, I would try to find a way to let them know that sometimes it’s just hard to find a lot to be thankful for, but that maybe it is right here, in front of us: the simple fact of being able to sit in a classroom and learn, or laughing at some silliness in the classroom that has absolutely nothing to do with learning, or being able to choose whether to write down their thoughts or keep them inside.
Last year, I had students jot their ideas about thankfulness on a post-it, which they stuck on their Art of Me symbolic drawings of themselves from the beginning of the year. And thankful they were, somehow, even when it seemed impossible.
One of my favorite post-its last year was simple and to the point: “I’m thankful for everything in my life. Well, maybe at times I’m not thankful, but I am, deep down.”
Maybe we all need to be.
What are you thankful for this year?