5 Lessons My Students (K-Ph.D.) Taught Me About Teaching and Life

I wrote this post nearly 5 years ago and have since stepped back into the college classroom because I missed the magic of learning with my students. However, every word of it remains true today. Thank you again to all of my amazing students who have taught me so much about teaching and life!

Dear Students,

As I step out of the classroom, I would like to thank all of you for teaching me so many important lessons. Although you taught me many more than just five lessons, these are the lessons that have had the greatest impact in my teaching and my life.



It is hard to listen. It took me lots of practice, but you were patient. Fortunately, you taught me to listen first with my ears. Then, I could hear your words. Next, you taught me to listen with my eyes, so I could see the relationship between your words and your actions. Finally, when I was ready, you taught me how to listen with my heart, so I could feel your words. And when I learned to listen with my ears, eyes and heart, I then truly understood you.


Looking critically in the mirror is not always fun, but it is necessary when developing your teaching. As I reflected on my craft, I began to realize that it was in the small details of day that I needed to change. First, I learned to greet each of you and let you know that your learning mattered. This simple routine built a foundation for our relationship and said to you, “I care about you and want you to be successful.” Then, I learned that my language needed to be explicit and concise. So, I stopped saying, “Please take your seat” and starting saying, “It’s time to sit and get ready to learn.” Through conscious efforts, my language slowly became more inclusive and less exclusive. I stopped saying, “parents” and instead referred to “caregivers.” It was a simple shift. However, it gave recognition to the multiple family members and friends were involved in supporting your education. “Homework” became “out of school assignments” because I understood that some of you completed your work at centers or in libraries, not home. It was in the details of simple actions and my language that my teaching evolved, and I know you appreciated my efforts.



I don’t like to make mistakes, but I do. I have made plenty and learned from most of them. Fortunately, you were always so kind and forgiving when I made big mistakes in front of the class. You also taught me that laughing at myself when I faltered was a good idea. What else do you do when you rip your pants during field day and have to hold them together with duct tape and binder clips? Yes, teaching, learning and living life are all risky business; it is important to have a sense of humor.



This lesson still terrifies me. Teaching from and with your heart makes you vulnerable. I don’t like to feel vulnerable; it’s scary. However, when you teach from and with your heart, the connections you make with students are steadfast and comforting like a warm quilt. What does it look like to teach from the heart? It means you read aloud Patricia Polacco’s Thank you, Mr. Falker with tears streaming down your face because you feel so deeply the pain of Trisha’s struggle to read. It means you eat lunch with your students and honestly discuss what superpowers you would like to have in the future. It means you search and find ways to give all students a voice, even if they never speak. When you teach from and with your heart, you stand beside your students letting them lean on you, you sit with your students letting them whisper their fears in your ears, and you hold them tight in your arms when the world seems too much to bear.


Globe w Hands

Okay, I love this lesson! Every day in your own learning, you would model for me the benefits of taking risks. As role models, you forced me to step outside of my comfort zone. I started in safe places like learning and integrating new technologies into my teaching. But I grew and so did the challenges. I started to look beyond the possible and started to challenge what seemed impossible. With your encouragement, I started to do more and become more. This lesson created my desire to write books for children that celebrate all abilities. When I shared my decision and thoughts about writing with you, you didn’t respond with looks of doubts or questions. Instead, you cheered me on and said, “I am so happy. Now, the world will be your classroom.”

Thank you for teaching me these important life lessons. Each one of you has been a part of this journey, and I am deeply grateful for all the lessons we have learned together. Since the only gift I can give you now is the written word, I will share a poem by Shel Silverstein that I memorized in fifth grade. I’ve been carrying it around in my heart for years. I still repeat it to myself in moments of doubt. Here it is…

Listen to the Mustn'ts

So listen and remember, “Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.” I wish you all the best life has to offer!

Believe in the possible,


(A.K.A: Ms. Leary, Ms. Stratton, Professor Stratton & Dr. J)

5 thoughts on “5 Lessons My Students (K-Ph.D.) Taught Me About Teaching and Life

  1. Hi, Jennifer!

    Thank you for thinking to send me your beautiful thoughts on learning can come from teaching. I’m a great admirer of your work–in the classroom and through the written word as well. Although I know the book you’re writing doesn’t directly apply to the five lessons, I still think they should be included in some kind of book, either as an introduction or used as the beginnings of each of five chapters. Maybe a book on teaching teachers how to learn from their students.

    Keep listening, feeling, and writing like you do. I can’t wait to read your book(s) and watch all the successes they will have in reaching those who will benefit from what you have to share.

    Did I tell you that Gastonia, NC and Springfield are going to become sister cities? The first “exchange” will take place this Father’s Day (June 21st) at Forest Park in Springfield. The Mayor of Gastonia is bringing the American Legion Post 23 baseball team to play Springfield’s Post 21 in the game that wasn’t played 81 years ago. Tony King will be throwing out the first pitch at high noon. Join us if you can!

    All the best in all you’re doing,



    • Richard,

      I am overwhelmed. Thank you for saying such kind things about my teaching and writing.

      I also appreciate you sharing with me the information about the new sister city relationship. How amazing! This event demonstrates that children’s books about important issues can create change. I am hoping my family can make it to the park on June 21st.

      Thank you for everything!



    • Nancy,

      So here is the back story…I had a little guy who got very upset with the field day events. He starting running into the parking lot. I sprinted after him and caught my pant pocket on a post by the lot. My pants torn down the entire side. With my pant leg flapping, I kept running until I caught up with him. Fortunately, I was able to calm him down and get him engaged again with his peers. Unfortunately, my pants had to be mended with clips and tape. For the rest of the day, every time I stepped on my right leg the tape would stick to my skin and then rip off again. It was an exciting day. I have a picture, but I am not willing to share it 😉



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