This editorial was originally posted by Alumni Affairs in March 2012. We've decided to re-post Jill's excellent editorial so that other alums can get a sense of her wonderful spirit.
Jill Bailey Chenet '03 was a second grade teacher at the River School in Washington, D.C. Tragically, Jill passed away on July 25, 2012, after drowning off the North Carolina Coast in a swimming accident. She will be missed greatly by the W&L Community. Please leave your comments remembering Jill.
Do you ever take a moment to ask yourself, “What did I learn from my clients today?” As an educator of young children, I am flooded daily with priceless one-liners, funny memoirs, and wise-beyond-their-years ‘kid-isms’ that prove that life’s greatest lessons often come from where you least expect it; in my case, 2nd graders! My “clients” are smart and savvy seven and eight year olds, who are open-minded and innocent. Yet, they have their own opinions, are quick to think on their feet, and find pure delight in catching my daily mistakes in the classroom. At the end of each school day, I like to reflect on my lessons, how the children responded to them and what I can change for the next day; however, what sticks with me the most are the bits of unexpected and unsolicited feedback I receive from my students. Over the years, they have blessed me with countless lessons of humility and perseverance, as well as daily reminders to maintain a sense of humor.
When I first started as a classroom teacher at the River School in Washington, D.C., I had a great deal to learn about children with hearing loss. For starters, I’d have to understand how to handle and troubleshoot cochlear implant devices and hearing aids. I taught Kindergarten that particular year and had three children in my class with profound hearing loss. All three children wore cochlear implant devices, and for all intents and purposes, were deaf without them. One morning, the class was outside on the playground, reveling in their free time. One little girl (we’ll call her Sam) was spinning on the tire swing and yelled over to me, “Miss Bailey! Push me faster!” I obliged and gave the swing the best I had. Caught a bit off-guard, Sam’s device went sailing across the playground, landing amidst the shuffle of sneakers. I stood motionless, trying to decide what step to take next. Check on the child? Grab the device? Meanwhile, Sam had entered a world of utter silence, thanks to me. She, however, doubled over with laughter. When she finally looked up at me, still unable to hear the slightest sound, she nonchalantly said, “Don’t worry. You just started here. You’ll catch on soon.” She patted me on my lower back and ran over to gather her device, fit it to her ear, and went back to play without missing a beat. I think of that moment often. When I look back and think of how much I’ve changed since that year, I thank Sam for teaching how to cut myself some slack.
The following school year, I began teaching Second Grade. After a particularly rough morning with a class comprised of incredibly active and boisterous eight year old boys, I found myself staring off into space and trying to gather myself during lunch. One of said boys approached me while I was deep in thought. He tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Mrs. Chenet, I know we gave you a rough time this morning. I think you handled yourself really well. You should go home and tell Mr. Chenet you did a good job at work today.” I took this young man’s advice and did exactly that. I suppose what I learned from this child is that even when you think you’re failing, you might just be doing something right. Even the ‘clients’ you think are giving you a run for your money might be the ones learning or gaining the most from you. Don’t give up. You will be noticed!
So go ahead – give it some thought. Think about a time when you felt as though as you failed or didn’t fully ‘deliver’ for your clients. What did you learn from that experience? Better yet, what might the people you serve have learned from the way you handled yourself in a difficult situation? I think you’ll find it’s worth the time spent reflecting. Be aware, listen carefully to the people you work with (no matter their age!), and make sure you laugh along the way.
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