By Natalee Anderson
Have you ever had those moments where you just have an overwhelming feeling that what is happening is exactly what SHOULD be happening? In the last year or so, I’ve had moments of complete confidence that we, the human race, are supposed to experience certain situations because it will lead us to pure, raw, God-given emotions. One of those emotions is gratitude. We were created to be thankful.
I teach sixth grade for Mesa Public Schools. If you ever want to see the depth of selfishness in humanity, you should step into a classroom of 27 twelve year olds. It is seriously exhausting watching them think about themselves so much. This selfishness creates a tension that is hard to explain and an atmosphere of insecurity, anxiousness, and disappointment.
To combat this toxic environment, I remembered something my own genius middle school teacher, Mrs. Kielsmeier, forced us to do every year. She would ask us to think of our classmates and think of what it was that we liked about them, write it down and give it to that person. Twenty years later, somewhere in my childhood room, those papers are still safely tucked away.
So, every November, the day before Thanksgiving, I ask my students to write their name on a piece of paper as well as the sentence, “I am thankful for you because…” Then, they pass the paper and everyone has 1 ½ minutes to write one sentence on each one. Their guidelines are 1) it has to be about their character, not a physical trait 2) it can’t be an inside joke and 3) no profanity, English or Spanish.
When I introduce it, there’s a nervousness in the room. I can almost hear them thinking, “But what if it’s blank?” However, as soon as the timer starts and their thoughts shift from thinking about themselves to thinking about their classmates, the feeling in the room drastically changes. Where there was insecurity, anxiousness, fear, there is now confidence, joy, excitement. This shift is because two things are happening that we were created for. One, they are thinking about others more than themselves and two, they are giving thanks.
Out of the 38 weeks of the school year, this week of thanksgiving is my favorite because of how this practice builds our community, clearly demonstrates to my students the joy of being thankful, and seeing the positive attributes of our neighbors. Experiencing the atmosphere of a room full of people giving thanks instills in me confidence that we are created to be a thankful people.