My students are my greatest teachers |

My students are my greatest teachers

Melissa Nikolai, Park City High School

As we ease into this holiday season, I’ve been considering the blessings I experience every day as a teacher. I love my job and my students. Every single one of my 144 is a terrific kid who teaches me as much as I teach them.

I love helping them to become better writers, and preparing them for college-level writing. I love helping them develop evidentiary reasoning as they learn to back up their ideas with examples from the novels we read. I love guiding them into passionate debates about what they think is right, or wrong, or would do differently if they were the character in the book. I love helping them learn to listen to each other, to give credence to another’s ideas, or respectfully disagree as we ponder the big questions of "how are you different after having read this book."

But the aspects of teaching that matter to me just as much are not measurable on any state test or district evaluation tool, and they are the day-to-day human interactions that show me that I’m working with amazing young human beings. The smart and sassy girl who came into my room one morning and announced that she’s going to be a dictator and plays the joke until she gets a chuckle from me. The students — and there are many — who email me regularly and ask if they could redo an assignment — of course! The students — and there are many — who drop in just to say hello, to connect with an adult who cares about them and wants to push them to be their very best. The students who come in on my prep and ask, "Ms. Nikolai, are you busy? I’m stuck on this essay for history class, could you help me?" Or, "Ms. Nikolai, would you write me a letter of recommendation for a scholarship I just found out about — which is due in two days?" The many students who drop into share a success — "I aced my math test," to cry over a setback: "I failed my first test — my mom is going to kill me!" or the myriad of conversations of a teenager who’s struggling to find him or herself in life: These are the moments that enrich each day.

The best part of my job though, is the lessons I learn from my kids; indeed, my students are my greatest teachers. They have no idea the lessons they provide for me, multiple times per day. The student who comes in and says, "I heard today’s lesson is boring, can’t we just watch a movie?" teaches me not to take things personally. Or the boy who can’t seem to show up on time teaches me patience. The kid who is moody and petulant teaches me to forgive, even if it’s hard. The student who needs to be redirected every few minutes teaches me not to give up on a person. The teenagers who look at me every day with trust that I have something valuable to offer them push me to work harder and longer to give them my best. I am constantly learning human lessons of compassion, forgiveness, patience, faith and humor, and they have no idea that they are my professors in these life lessons.

These are the reasons why I consider it an honor to be a teacher at Park City High School. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. I invite other teachers to share their stories of why they teach, what they give, and what they get in return.

Happy Holidays,

Melissa Nikolai

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