When I was in the fifth grade, I was chosen from among several students to attend a four day camping trip to Yosemite National Park. It was the first time I would be away from my family for an extended period of time, and I was both very excited and very nervous to join my classmates in the several days of hiking and sightseeing. When the day came, the students who were chosen to go on the trip were summoned to the school cafeteria to begin boarding the bus, and I was among the last to board. I was several students away from boarding the bus when my fifth grade teacher came running towards the bus, yelling my name, and holding a taupe-colored journal in her hand. She came up to me and handed the journal to me and asked that I write everything I saw on the trip in that journal.
I looked up at her in bewilderment, and dropped my head because I thought she was assigning homework. I thought she was going to grade the journal based on what I wrote during my trip; either I would receive a good grade if I was descriptive, or I would receive a failing grade if I was too vague. I was upset because I wanted to experience the trip without the pressure of completing school work. When my fifth grade teacher noticed my reaction, she asked me to look at her as she explained that she was not assigning homework. “I am not going to grade you on this, Robel,” she said, “I just want you to capture what you see in writing because you are such a gifted writer.”
The words she spoke to me that afternoon filled me with confidence in my ability as a writer. There had never been a teacher at Garfield elementary school in Oakland who had told me that I was gifted in any academic area. My fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Walcott, was the first of only a handful of educators to ever highlight a strength in my academics.
Eighteen years later, I can say that my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Walcott, inspired me to become an author. Two years ago, I wrote, edited, and self-published my own book before my 25th birthday, and throughout the entire process I could not get away from Mrs. Walcott’s words: “you are such a gifted writer.” Mrs. Walcott instilled confidence in me that carried me through middle and high school, university, and even within my extra-curricular writing activities. The taupe-colored journal that Ms. Walcott handed to me that day in the fifth grade has become a symbol of confidence in my written expression, and it is something that no one could take away.
Educators, we are grateful for all of the work you do. The impact you cause in students is an irreplaceable treasure for most. As educators, we must remember that some of the most impactful experiences our students will commit to memory are rooted in simple affirmations we can provide to them. Tell a student that they are gifted in some area, and I am sure they will never forget it.
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