Operation Beautiful is an initiative to create a better, more positive attitude for people through the use of simple messages on post-it notes. Years ago, a boyfriend I loved broke my heart and I was devastated. I didn’t know what to do with myself, and somehow, a stroke of luck, the universe looking down on me, something…I found Operation Beautiful. And I started making little post-its of my own and I plastered my school with them. Teachers and students seemed to notice them, but I didn’t tell anyone it had been me until the following year, when I asked some girls to do it when they had a hard time and were seeking ways to find their own positive self image.
In the second semester of the second year of this initiative at our school, one of my kids found out I had initiated the program. Now trust me, I wasn’t the originator of this idea, I only brought it to my school, but it had a larger effect than I ever realized. When that boy found out that I had written all of the notes the first time around, he pulled a ratty old note out of his wallet with my handwriting on it. He told me that one day, he was just kind of moping around, and as he walked out of the boys’ bathroom, he found the note that must have come from the girls’ room. He read it, and he said it made him tear up, so he put it in his wallet because it was just what he needed that day. He carried it for a year and a half after—at least long enough to show me that he had it on that day. He said that he often took it out and looked at it to remind himself of his own worth. That touched me, and I will never forget that moment.
We tried the initiative again this year, and some of the kids in the school community were very negative about it. They didn’t like it. They felt that it was giving trophies out for participation. But there have been moments where I know that some other kids have gotten a note about something they needed to hear. This year, in fact, has been so much more valuable for the adults on this campus to read those notes. I took one out of the blue to our Disciplinarian, and it just happened that at that moment she was embroiled in a heated conversation with a student where neither was winning. She stopped what she was doing and said, “your timing is impeccable.” She glanced at the note, and looked at me, then, “Really.”
I just smiled and walked out, well, because I didn’t have to stay, but really, because that little tiny note that said, “You are good at what you do” reminded her that she had the strength to help this kid, and that this, whatever it was, could be resolved.
It is amazing what a tiny little note of good vibes can do for a person. It is so fascinating how just receiving a bright pink sticky with a sharpied note can change the current in the room. I love to watch the kids read them. I have one a student wrote for me on my bulletin board. Those little notes can really change a mood. They are not to be underestimated.
Years ago when I split up with that man that I was so in love with, Operation Beautiful came to me and helped me through it by helping others. It reduced my pain by forcing my attention onto other people. It worked to soothe student angst in even just one case, and that makes me feel like I did something great.
If you want to know more about Operation Beautiful, go to www.operationbeautiful.com and see the initiative itself. Take it to your place of work, or your apartment building, or to your favorite place to hang out. Don’t be wasteful, but be optimistic. It’s amazing what it does for the self when we give to others.
Coffee cups are a cool marker of time spent in the classroom. That's one of the favorite gifts of students to a teacher. That and chocolate, which I can't complain about.
But I have a couple of coffee cups (and a coffee maker) that I especially treasure.
One was given to me by a little old Mexican immigrant woman who ran a daycare out of her house. She was the sweetest little lady, and I made her cry. She gave me a coffee mug because it was Christmas and I had taught her to write a fluid essay using proper grammar. I say that actually, she just took the tools I gave her and she ran with it, but I'll take it.
She handed me the mug, told me how much I meant to her, and her tears began to flow. And so did mine. She only had one eye. Her hands were arthritic, and she was deeply and honestly compassionate. She was a woman I would have loved to have taking care of my son. I wonder often what she did with her education...where is she now? Does she still have her daycare, or has she moved on to other things?
I have the PEACE coffee cup given to me by the group of seniors who were so much fun. We had coffee club every day of winter, and it worked to get them focused. At least, it seemed to. It did get them off the energy drinks. One girl would polish off four Red Bulls before 1st period was even over. I threatened to call her mom if she didn't lay off the juice. She and Charles bought me the coffee maker to celebrate our morning of community.
I HAD one that said, "I have a black belt...and argyle socks" that the kids loved. That group was full of kids destined to be lawyers. The mug disappeared.
And then the one I bought the year I had seniors who made me dread my day. It says, "The answer: G-R-A-D-U-A-T-I-O-N" and the inside lip says, "How do you spell RELIEF?" I was not connected to that group. We made each others' lives miserable. They fought just as hard not to do the work as I fought to get them to do the work. I couldn't wait for May. I couldn't wait for January. January meant the spring would fly.
I have the white mug with the pink Oriental design that a student left behind, the yellow happy face another purposely left for me, and the brown and pink ceramic mug given to me by a graduate as her graduation present to me.
And I have the travel mug with the pictures of two girls who were best friends all along the way. I let them use my computer their junior year and was treated to a lovely image of the two as my screensaver. And then they carried that over their senior year when I didn't have them in class. At the semester break, they came back with a present for me. A travel mug with images of the two of them from their freshman year through. They even added a sticker that said, "Laugh until the mascara runs" which made me laugh and became a unique inside joke for the three of us.
All of them have meaning, and all of them are lovely, each in their own way. Or silly, or serious, or large, or small...much like each of my students. They all have their own personalities, and when I leave this classroom for the last time, I ponder whether the coffee mugs will go, or whether they will stay. Like my students, some go, some stick around to make sure I know they care.
Student Council was always something I enjoyed in both High School and in College. It allowed me the opportunity to be involved, to meet new people, and to get good seats at all of the great events. In College, I traveled to several different states and even to Canada for conferences, and I was able to hold a National office, which was pretty impressive for a little girl from NY/NM. I loved it.
Now, I sponsor a Student Council, and it is hard work. Rewarding, to be sure, and I have incredible officers who make my job a little easier, but it is hard work.
Recently we went to a conference in Las Cruces, and watching those kids work through the challenges of a new experience, along with facing down their own insecurities and learning new things about themselves was probably the most rewarding part of all of it. I also learned that by Day 2, I'm pretty exhausted and if you aren't going to feed me, I turn into a gigantic jerk. I mean, I guess we already kind of knew that anyway.
The kids were wonderful. We didn't win any competitions, but the overwhelming response from my little delegation was excitement at the energy and spirit of community and the desire to bring a little piece of that home. I can't wait to see what they do with it.
Wait, wait, wait…before you close this page, never to open it again because you think I’m one of those crazy “if you can’t do, teach” kind of people, hear me out.
What I mean, is that when I teach, I am so busy planning, creating, assessing, cajoling, consoling, observing, redirecting, focusing and all the other -ing words you can think of, I have no time to think about the things that bother me. I can direct all of my energy completely and wholeheartedly into a bunch of people who may or may not want to hear me, but who will benefit from me. And it’s liberating to do it.
Last year around this time, I was having a miserable day—you know the kind—mid-February blahs, kids fighting about who gets to say which line of the play we were reading, other kids swearing and drawing on the tables, basketball games canceled, six kids directing me in six directions all at the same time and one of them my son…and then I sat down and spoke to one student all by himself. I looked him in the eye and talked about the lesson we were working on.
And he stopped me and said, “you love to teach, don’t you?”
“Yes, I do.”
“I can see it. One minute your fangs were showing and the next minute, you’re teaching me something and it’s like you’re a different person.”
“Oh. Well, thank you.”
Today, it was my third period losing their MINDS after lunch. I'm not sure what they ate, or what they did, or why they were so nuts, but I could not corral them to get them to think about poetry. THEN, I couldn't spell "unmistakable." I tried it "unmistakeable." They teased me mercilessly. Mind you, these are the kids I had to add a bonus 5 points to get them to spell things correctly on a quiz...
One kid tried to make it better by reminding me, "well, they both have a mistake in them..." And another smirked as he said, "it should have 's-t-e-a-k' in it." You gotta love 'em.
So, I do love to teach. It’s in my blood. It's hard to step away from it, for sure. The kids make it worth it. They are the ones who make it something I enjoy--even when I'm directing traffic and herding cats. Thanks kids.
Wanted: a good set of sentences to grab you from the depths of the internet. I keep trying to catch your eye.