Cycle of Generosity: From Teacher to Student and Back Again

When we give of our time, our talents, our services, and our hearts, the wealth is so much more valuable than anything a material gift can provide. By being generous of spirit and serving others, we gain a wealth that can never be lost or taken from us.

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As I near the end of yet another September, which for me means making it through another first month of a new school year, I am reminded of how being a teacher allows me to embrace generosity, even when I am focused on back-to-school minutiae and may not realize that I am making an impact on my students day in and day out. 

Teachers give so much of ourselves--hours spent planning and grading on evenings and weekends, at the expense of time with our families, the constant giving of reminders, reprimanding students who would prefer to be anywhere other than sitting in our classroom--that it’s easy to get stuck in the daily grind and forget that our profession is an inherently generous one.

I have been teaching high school English since 2001, and over the course of my career working with teenagers, I have realized the truth of these words: “People may forget what you tell them, or what you teach them, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

I have formed some lasting relationships with students, and am fulfilled knowing I have made an impact on their lives. 

Two years ago, I had a student in my 10th grade English class, who--like so many teenagers in competitive, high performing districts like the one in which I teach--suffered from anxiety and used to practice self-harm. During the second semester, I assigned a creative project connected to Catcher in the Rye. She chose to write about one of her own life experiences in the “voice” of Holden Caulfield, and captured Salinger’s style perfectly. 

This creative assignment allowed my student to write about a tragic moment that changed her life and to find some closure. As a result, she felt comfortable opening up to me, and she offered to be my student assistant the following year. This gave us the opportunity to get to know each other outside of just the student/teacher realm. We had many discussions, most of which centered around tackling anxiety.

Knowing how much quotations and language inspire me, she gave me a handmade mug with the inscription, “Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground.” She also shared how grateful she was for me and often called me her “school mom.” Because of her sincere appreciation for me, this student reminds me of the natural giving that comes with teaching. 

Last month, I received an email from this student. Since graduating in June, she had become involved in a non-profit organization for teens suffering from depression and anxiety, and she had organized a panel discussion in her town. Her email informed me she was going to be one of the panel speakers and that she would love it if I came to the event since I had been so supportive of her over the years. 

So, on an evening in August--when I could have been enjoying one of my last nights with no grading or schoolwork--I went to support my student. Sitting and listening to her share her experiences and give back to her community felt wonderful. I was so proud of her for taking this step to make a difference.

Knowing I had influenced this journey not only fulfilled me but re-energized me.

I left that night feeling inspired and ready to meet this year's students.


Katie Hillstrom is the mom of one active, Lego and Star Wars obsessed boy. A high school English teacher since 2001, she loves books, quotes, and words in general.  Originally from Kansas, has has lived on the East Coast since 1998 and currently resides in Arlington, MA with her husband, son, and dog Blu. Connect with her on Facebook.
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Katie Hillstrom

Katie Hillstrom is the mom of one active, Lego and Star Wars obsessed boy. A high school English teacher since 2001, she loves books, quotes, and words in general.  Originally from Kansas, has has lived on the East Coast since 1998 and currently resides in Lexington, MA with her husband, son, and dog Blue.