We are over 7 months into our journey as a military family, just wrapping up our third month overseas, and I’ve come down with an unimaginable case of homesickness that’s lasted for the better part of a week. Each morning I wake hoping to be cured, but the sadness of being away from family, friends, community, and the sense of familiarity and home overcomes me once again.
I open a box of special letters to find comfort. I have been purposefully waiting to read these letters because while there are many in the box now, I know that eventually I’ll get down to the last one, and I’m hopeful that, by rationing their reading, I can make them last until my return home. This special box contains letters that were collected from students and coworkers at my former school by my thoughtful co-teacher who taught me so much in our year working alongside each other. The outsides of the letters do not indicate authorship, regardless of the writer, I know each is filled with powerful words that will envelop me in the warmth of friendship.
Written words are prevailing; at any time on any day, they can be read again, their comfort revisited, even from thousands of miles away.
It’s magical how someone can take just a few minutes to write down words of encouragement, support, love, or well wishes and make their love felt mightily from afar.
Words have always fascinated me: the emotion they add to a letter, the excitement they bring to a story, the heartbreak they help to heal. Once written, they serve to document one’s thoughts at a moment in time; they provide a look into the mind of the author, a glimpse of the writer’s soul.
When I accepted the position of language arts teacher, I was excited to share my love of the written word with my students. To help them develop that same love, I filled a word wall with interesting adjectives, put a children’s thesaurus at our writing center, spent the first 5 minutes of each class studying a sentence from our weekly text, and required my students to use a T-Chart when reading a new text. On one side of the chart, they would put down words that were unfamiliar within the text, while on the other side they listed words from the selection that they found interesting.
If children become fascinated with words and their meaning, they develop into enthusiastic readers and intelligent writers. They meet new vocabulary with excitement and seek to use it in both oral and written communication, thus solidifying their newly acquired knowledge.
My students learned to love improving as writers. They enjoyed editing their own writing and peer editing their classmates work. I encouraged the use of highlighters while they were editing rough drafts to “detect” proper use of adjectives, and I praised students who worked to effectively sprinkle them throughout their work. I reminded them that, after using the highlighter on adjectives in a rough draft, the work would glow, both literally with the streaks of the highlighter and figuratively with detailed, descriptive language.
One of my favorite projects of the school year was letter-writing. We would chant the phrase, “Put words in a letter, make someone feel better.”
We learned how to properly construct a letter and how to make the contents interesting to the recipient. A paper sorter was then used as a classroom mailbox. Each student had their own mail slot and we shared a basket of envelopes and “stamps” (random packs of leftover stickers). Not only did they realize how much fun it is to receive a letter, but also they loved watching their classmates become delighted when they saw that an envelope had been placed into their mailbox.
The end of last school year, as I was saying goodbye to my wonderful students, I was heartbroken at the thought of missing them continue to grow as third grade scholars. I gave each of them envelopes, complete with my soon-to-be new address, in hopes that they would use their letter-writing skills to write me and that I would be able to read how they were growing as third grade scholars.
It had been months since passed out the envelopes, but right at the beginning of fall, I opened my mailbox to find a happy surprise! Like always, my students amazed me and their written words comforted me.
The feeling of opening our APO box and seeing an envelope with a former student’s name on it sparks the same feeling as a breakthrough moment during a lesson.
A moment that brings joyful tears to my eyes, reminds me how blessed I am to watch young minds grow, and makes me so grateful for the teaching profession.
Although I am far away, geographically, from my students, friends, and family, through the power of the written word, I remain so close to their hearts.