Friend Friend

I'm a 6th grade English teacher. I like doing things for my students that show them that I really care about them.

Over the years, there are gestures I've made for student gifts as they rushed out the doors for winter break. My intention has always been to give a free or low-cost, yet meaningful gift. The biggest challenge is always the same, no matter the gift: quantity. Besides sealing each envelope with a sticker, tucking a carefully cut phrase from a portion of photocopied paper and writing each student's first name in cursive on the outside, just signing my name 150 times, consumed too much time. This story is about an example of one such moment when I realized I was in over my head.

I tried a gift that winter for the first (and last) time. I'd read about a teacher who would write each of her student's names on the top of a paper, then pass the papers around the room so each child could write something they appreciate about the classmate on the paper. In the end, she had the papers returned to each student, delighted to find a page full of kindness from their peers.
"What a great idea!," I thought and planned.

The difference between the kind teacher I read about and myself is that she had a class of about thirty grade school students, and I had five times the students coming in and out of my classroom every day. Again, the quantity issue. This was a consideration, but this seemed like a doable, meaningful, perfect gift for my 6th graders. I failed to anticipate the the probability of cruel and/or illegible comments ending up on student's papers. I considered whiting out comments, but that just couldn't work.

I realized I would have to take every paper home and type up all 150 papers, each containing something like 20 short messages from classmates. I should also add that my personal holiday shopping was barely started. And the semester was ending in tandem with the break, so grades were due. And my best friend, Hilary, was visiting for the break. This seems like a teacher story, but it's really a story about my friend friend Hilary. She gets two friends.

So, in the days before the break, I busted ass. I finished transcribing the papers for 4 of my 5 classes by the day Hilary arrived. The countdown was: 1 day of school before winter break. I was so consumed with this task (and the fact that I hadn't finished writing thoughtful holiday cards to my colleagues who had extended extra kindness to me through the year), that I remember having difficulty focusing on one of my all-time favorite people and visitors, my co-adventurer, Hilary! We only see each other once or twice each year and Hilary had just arrived for a week long visit.

While Hilary and I caught up and laughed and visited, I typed. And I typed. And finally I was done for the night. In just a few short hours, I would finally hand out my holiday gifts; true labors of love. Before signing out of my computer, I realized that I had somehow lost the last class' papers. I don't know what happened, but I do know I cried. Exhausted, I collapsed and decided to figure out what to do the next day. When I woke up early for school the next morning, I had a knot in my stomach. The door to the guest room was closed, so I crept through the kitchen to let the house sleep.

That's when I saw it. There was a little note scribbled and signed with an "- h" Hilary stayed up into the wee hours of the night and typed up all the papers I lost. !! I cried again, but this time the tears were sweet.

That's a friend friend.

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