How Nine-Year-Old Me Taught Me What’s Important in Education

by Justin Birckbichler


Over the holidays, my mother approached me holding a small, red cylinder. As I took it from her, I realized it was my time capsule I had hidden in our attic in 2000, when I was nine.


As I rummaged through the contents, I saw some artifacts that were crucial and meaningful to my childhood, while others left me wondering why I included them (as a colorblind person, I’m not sure why I included crayons in there?)


Little did I know that nine-year-old me was about to give some insight to me. Many of the items now held vastly different meanings to me as an educator.


  1. 1. Second Place Ribbon:
  • WHAT IT MEANT THEN: A memento of my glorious achievement of second place in the tug-of-war
  • WHAT IT MEANS NOW: I wrote that last sentence firmly tongue-in-cheek and my family and I laughed that I chose to include this ribbon rather than a first place ribbon. However, as I am reflecting now, it carries a lot of meaning. It’s ok to not always be first, and we should celebrate all serious efforts. My thoughts on “everybody gets a trophy” vary, but honest and best effort should always be recognized. We must show students we appreciate their work more than just the final outcome.


  1. 2. Jeff Gordon Trading Card:
  • THEN: A card displaying stats of my all-time favorite athlete – NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon
  • NOW: Whereas Jeff Gordon (and Ricky Bobby) both “wanna go fast,” sometimes we need to slow down in education. Facing over over 100 standards between all subject areas, this seems like an impossible task, but it’s the students who miss out. We must slow down the pace to help our students develop strong and meaningful connections.


  1. 3. Boy’s Life Magazine:
  • THEN: A magazine that I received by being a Boy Scout. I frequently flipped to the back (where the comics were) and worked my way forward.
  • NOW: Of all the items in the time capsule, this one holds the most literal meaning. I hated Boy Scouts when I was in it, but looking back, the ideals helped shape the teacher I am today. The Boy Scout motto is “Do You Best.” I aim to do this everyday and instill it with my students. Many of the virtues of Boy Scouts – trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, cheerful, and brave – are ideals we should instill in all students. Character education cannot take a back seat to content.


  1. 4. Pokemon Card:
  • THEN: A card and video game that ruled my pre-teen years. I was constantly on a quest to locate Charizard.
  • NOW: We must always be evolving. I have been teaching for three years, and my instruction changes every year. The students change, and we much change with them. The myth that “teachers plan once, and then repeat” must be dispelled. All teachers must take risks and try new things. Sure, it could go terribly wrong, but students are forgiving and it is a great way to model a growth mindset. On the other hand, it could be an amazing experience which will have a large impact on your students’ lives.


5.Tickets to a Phillies game, DisneyWorld, and SeaWorld:

  • THEN: Reminders of travels to long ago to far-off destinations. Also, I must have done a lot of traveling that year!
  • NOW: We must take our students on adventures frequently. This does not have to always involve physically going places on field trips, but we need to develop a strong sense of adventure and wonder in our classrooms. Take students on virtual field trips or reimagine your room as a desired destination. The world is getting smaller with the continued growth of technology. Your classroom doesn’t have to be (and shouldn’t be) restrained by the four walls.


  1. 6. Listing of My Favorite Books:
  • THEN: Books were a critical component of my childhood. I was an avid reader, choosing titles such as Harry Potter, Junie B. Jones, and many other classic series
  • NOW: As I said, I loved reading as a child. As a teen, I hated it. Why? My teachers told me what to read. I hated reading in general based on this fact. I made a vow to minimize lack of choices in my classroom. When students have choices, they stay more engaged in the learning. One of my favorite class memories this year is when we all read our own choice books. Students (and I) were completely engrossed in their books for the entire 40 minutes – something I would never have achieved if I assigned what they read.


  1. 7. Tommy Pickles from the Rugrats:
  • THEN: My favorite character from my favorite childhood show
  • NOW: Always see education from the eyes of a child. Tommy could turn a boring day into an adventure, just by letting his imagination lead the way. We must let our inner child lead our lessons. In any other industry, service and satisfaction are determined by the customer. Students are our customers. We must give them the product they want and deserve.


  1. 8. Sunglasses:
  • THEN: I constantly wore sunglasses a kid, thinking they made me look really cool
  • NOW: We can’t worry about being the coolest person in our classroom. In fact, if you ask my students, I am probably the weirdest and most embarrassing member of our classroom family. However, I am entirely ok with this. It gets the students laughing and engaged in learning, and gives them the chance to be the cool ones. We must leave our egos at the door.

I still have no idea why I included the crayon, but after reflecting, it was clear that nine-year-old me had a plan and a purpose for each of these objects. Fifteen years later, past me took present me to school.


jbThink back to your childhood. What would you have left for your present self? What would your present self leave for your future self?


Today’s post is by Justin Birckbichler, a passionate 4th grade teacher in Virginia. He is also the co-host of @eduroadtrip and the founder of #flyhighfri and #teach20s.


To read more by Justin.

Posted by: LeadUpNow on

Tags: , , ,