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Tung Trinh, Head of Middle School, Shares his Discovery of an Important Life Lesson

For those who have been in my office, you know that I have a small Pez collection lined up on my window sill. I realize that I have shared this story many times with parents and visitors, but that many of you do not know the origins of this important collection. It all started with a few advisees from my last school who were determined to pool their money together and present me with an end of the year gift.

It was a group of very sweet and endearing 7th Grade boys, but not the most organized teenagers. Collectively, the group was only able to muster up about $3 in various denominations. And with very little time before the end of the year, they realized their prospects of a grand gift was severely hampered by their inability to collect more money and their lack of adequate planning.

In the end, they were able to present me with a Tweety Bird Pez dispenser. The gift kind of took on a life of its own and in the following years, where future advisories and students would give me a Pez dispenser as end of the year gifts.

Ironically, I hate Pez candy. The chalky consistency and overly sugared taste make for an unpleasant surprise to come out of the top of these fun little toys. But, as you can imagine, my Pez dispensers carry significant meaning in my life as an educator. I can remember who gave me each dispenser, which provide a flood of memories of other students in that advisory/class and the unbelievable amount of comedic content that Middle School students provide us Middle School teachers.

As trite as it may sound, with my teaching responsibilities and time in the classroom becoming more scarce and precious, all I have to do is look just over the left side of my computer screen for some genuine reminders about why I enjoy the work we do together to teach, mentor, coach, advise and guide Middle School students. A couple of weeks ago, though, the Pez dispensers were able to provide me with yet another important lesson.

In cleaning out our house, I came upon two more Pez dispensers that my children Ollie and Mae quietly took from my office. When I brought them back, it became apparent that there really was no real estate left on the window sill. I was going to move some of them over to another table to make room for the two recouped dispensers, but instead decided to take on the risky and tedious task of sliding over each Pez dispenser to see if I could ever so gently squeeze these last 2 in.

I had to move about 40 Pez dispensers over a fraction of a centimeter to see whether or not this was going to be successful. After the initial effort, I was able to only get Snoopy back on the sill but Batman still did not have a home. I went back and slid all of the dispensers over, once again, another smaller fraction of a centimeter. Sure enough, after a third effort of making room the last one, Batman is now among his friends.

This exercise made me think about all of our interactions in the Middle School between adults and students. The easy thing to do would have been to break up the display and simply move the dispensers around. But there was a big part of me that just wanted all of the Pez dispensers together. It felt better to take the time to move each one over incrementally in order to make room for everyone else. Such a small movement yielded both a desirable and successful result.

What if we were all able to find ways to incrementally change what we think, say and do to be just a little bit better than the day before? What if we were just a little more patient each time? A little nicer? A little more forgiving? Perhaps, just then, over time, our incremental changes could result to a stronger, and more positive community. If we can take on this commitment on a daily basis, then I would care to wager that we would all do our part in making our smaller and larger communities that much better through the smallest acts of kindness.

Making room for Snoopy and Batman is a nice reminder of how far the little things can actually take us.