The Whiteboard

The Sandwich Bag Lesson

A student’s simple act of kindness reminds a teacher of what truly matters.

Can I be honest? There was a time when I felt like a failure as a teacher. I felt like a failure if my students left my class reading and writing below grade level. I felt like a failure if I didn’t read every day with every student (which we all know is impossible). I felt like a failure if not every student showed huge academic gains. I felt like a failure if my classroom’s academic data didn’t look as good as the data from the classroom across the hall. I felt like I had failed not only my students, but also their parents, their future teachers, my administrators, etc.  

Even though all of my students may not read at or above grade level when they leave me, they will leave me knowing they have the potential to make this world a better place.

One day was particularly rough—like “I don’t cry, but I cried five times today” rough. I was feeling the weight of my students’ futures on my shoulders. I was ready to crawl into a deep, dark hole. But then, reality hit me straight in the face. Reality in the form of a six-year-old student holding a box of plastic sandwich bags. 

“Miss Pearson, I have something for you.”

She handed me a box of sandwich bags.

“Thank you so much! What are these for?”

“Before Christmas, you said you were out of sandwich bags at home. I saw your sandwich and chips in the same bag. Nobody needs that. That’s gross. Plus, when we need something, you get it for us. When we lose our glue, you may not be happy, but you get us another one. Or when Joe eats his pencils, you tell him it’s wrong, but then you give him more pencils. You told us that if we love people, we show them. You said real leaders show they care. I just want to show you.”

At this point, I was sobbing yet again, but this time for a different reason. 


Because at that moment, I realized that all my students may not read and write at an advanced level when they leave my classroom, but they will leave as better friends and leaders than when they walked into it. All of my students may not be able to retell every nonfiction book they read or make perfect text-to-world connections, but they will leave with more compassion. And this is what truly matters.

That box of sandwich bags in the hands of my precious six-year-old student reminded me of the importance of my role as a teacher.

Sure, the world benefits from better readers and writers . . . but what our world really needs is soft, eager, and willing hearts. Our world needs more compassion. Our world needs kids who see the needs of others and take steps to help meet those needs. As teachers, we are in a unique position to cultivate these virtues in our students. 

I now value a class with hearts that love others over a class with perfect scores on their achievement assessments. Even though all of my students may not read at or above grade level when they leave me, they will leave me knowing they have the potential to make this world a better place. 

Thanks to my tender-hearted student and those sandwich bags, instead of feeling like a failure, I now feel like I have an opportunity to make a difference. 

Katelynn is a passionate first-grade teacher. She earned her B.A. and M.Ed from SAGU and is currently pursuing her EdD at Baylor University. To read more work by Katelynn, go to her Facebook page “For the Love of 1st Grade.” 


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