By Panagiota Lilikaki*
My dearest students,
On the occasion of Teacher Appreciation Week and every other week that I spent with you, I would like to express my gratitude for your presence not just in my class but my life.
I thank you, Fifth Graders for walking in the classroom, 74 steps each morning, eager to exchange our individual morning greetings. And although you girls complain that I greet the boys first, and the boys exclaim, “That’s not true, you always start with the girls,” you both very well know that I respect each and every one of you. Thank you for the times that you participated in classroom discussion and activities, and forgive me for delivering the most boring lesson of the entire year last week – I don’t know what I was thinking by trying to push the connection of symbolism and theme. Now that I think about it, I should have said, “The student is a symbol of innocence, and the role of each teacher is to foster integrity through education.” I thank you for your work ethic; sometimes, I can’t believe how lucky I am that I get homework from all of you. I thank you for your great enthusiasm: where else in the world does a teacher walk into her classroom, and the students demand ER! – in our class, ER stands for English Rules Day, where students read from their independent reading, and then talk about what they have read with their peers.
I thank you, Sixth Graders, for patiently waiting for the Fourth Graders to leave the room before entering and asking, “Are you ready for us, Ms. Lilikaki?” I thank you for attending all the extra prep-test sessions, sacrificing leisure activities, and understanding that each big test is, in essence, a game where you simply need to know the rules. Thank you for making prep-test time fun for everyone and not complaining when I keep you extra time! My Sixth Graders, thank you for showing such a great level of maturity and empathy while studying The House on Mango Street. Thank you for getting me entangled in the most beautiful prose poems about “Hair,” inspired by Sandra Cisneros’ work. Thank you for allowing the author’s tone to guide your voices as writers.
I thank you, Third and Fourth Graders, for permitting me to teach you my parents’ tongue, Greek, reminding me how difficult it was for me to learn a second language, English. Thank you for allowing me to share with you the games I used to play during the summer, under my grandmother’s watchful eye, with the other children in the neighborhood in Crete, Greece: Hide-and-Go-Seek, Where is the ring, Museum, Green Light, Red Light, Stop, and others that prove that children’s games around the world are similar. I did not know how similar we all are. Thank you, Lucia, for giving me that letter thanking me for never giving up on your class, the day that I walked into our class ready to give up; please forgive me. I was feeling so tired. Thank you, Fourth Graders, for embracing for the longest time the research on the history of the Olympic Games even on the days you had a math test with your teacher. Thank you for bearing with all the irregular declensions of neutrals, and revising your Greek essays three times!
I thank you, Eighth Graders, for walking every morning, second period, into Greek class dragging your back backs, your eyes half closed, and managing to say a warm “Good morning, Ms. L,” proving that you portray the majority of teenagers who lack sleep but not motivation once the lesson starts. Thank you for embracing last week’s lessons, the customs in May, with great enthusiasm and for keeping a straight face when I shared the video of women drinking from the same vase after they had thrown rings and other personal objects in it. Thank you for always supporting your strong opinions and even choosing the best translation of Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek, because Bien “keeps the original language alive.” I thank you for walking into the Greek consulate’s exhibition “Matters First” and asking the artist, Yorgos Giotsas meaningful questions. Thank you for being courageous to have a dialogue with the artist through your own drawings and poetry. Thank you for translating the same elements of fire and land that Giotsas used in his artwork in a renewed vision through your creativity.
My students, thank you for proving that not a single day of teaching is worthwhile without your organic presence. I thank you for reminding me, by watching you, that love is the force that guides me to be with you.
*Panagiota Lilikaki is an English/Greek teacher at The Cathedral School in New York City.