For me, February is the longest month of the school year. Boasting only 28 days, the weeks seem to drag on as we slog through classes. My students feel it too. Some who started the school year off with a fantastic work ethic and a sense of energy and excitement are now struggling to complete assignments and report that they feel fatigued and drained. This is a natural feeling, and I often talk to my class about how the best things, like fruitful relationships, knowledge, and the pursuit of virtue in our calling demand sacrifice from those who seek these goods. Still, it is nice to look forward to little moments of joy that prod us forward and reinvigorate our souls. That’s why I am delighted each year on February 14, the feast of Saint Valentine.
Though the history is a bit foggy, Valentine was a third century Roman priest and doctor who was imprisoned and martyred for his faith during the persecution of Christians by the emperor Claudius II Gothicus. According to popular belief, St. Valentine closed a letter that he’d composed to his jailer’s daughter with “from your Valentine”. This young woman was a friend of Valentine’s, and he had healed her from both spiritual and physical illness. His intimate letter contained words of encouragement and wisdom for the young woman, and although they were not romantically involved, the tradition of sending notes, or Valentines, is rooted in this legend. St. Valentine, suffering himself, nonetheless took the time to give of himself to someone in need.
It’s this story that inspires me during the month of February, because I am reminded each year that I have the opportunity to give sacrificially, even in small ways, to my students. And those small ways do great things for young people. A quick sticky note that says, “I saw how hard you worked on that math problem yesterday-tremendous work!” can change the entire trajectory of a struggling student’s day. A smile and a patient reteaching of a concept that you’ve taught dozens of times before to the same person maintains the kind of friendship that you need for learning to happen. Responding to an incorrect answer with, “I’m going to work through this with you-let’s try again!” protects the dignity and the hearts of students who are feeling just as tired as I am. That’s how we make it through the long month of February: one intentional Valentine at a time.
In grammar school, teachers love the small steps that their students make each day in the classroom, and our joy comes from those moments throughout the day when children own their learning. Young people, though, need constant support and love from their teachers, and that takes a great deal of energy from us. As we work through this second semester, may we be inspired by the courageous acts of Saint Valentine and continue to give of ourselves every day, especially to our students who need us the most. For me, the decision to give again, and again, and again, is the very thing that invigorates my work and my classroom.