A pep talk for teachers in the new year
As the start of another school year rolls around, it’s hard not to reflect on my own 35 years in classrooms and on the students I taught. It’s my second year of retirement, but I have continued to volunteer in a kindergarten class, which allowed me to observe during the last few weeks as teachers got their rooms ready and prepared for the coming school year.
As I watched, I thought about all the changes I saw during my years as a teacher. Teaching was always a demanding profession, but now it seems harder than ever. So many meetings, so many mandates from the top, so little time to learn about new programs, so much emphasis on test scores and so many challenges that students bring to school. It doesn’t take long to get bogged down by the details or discouraged. In that spirit, I would like to give all teachers a little encouragement since the year is young.
Teachers, please keep in mind that in spite of all the “must-dos” you have been handed, you are still the one with the knowledge and understanding of your students and your content area. You went to college (and perhaps graduate school) to learn how to be a teacher, and you, in many cases, have the experience of many years. Most important, you hold the license to teach. Be proud of that. New programs may come and go and trends may turn the heads of the fickle. The art of teaching, however, remains constant.
Some in the profession with little or no teaching experience may try to tell you to do things that conflict with what you know and believe is right for students. This need not diminish your influence; you can still touch children’s lives in so many ways. You matter so much in ways you don’t have time to ponder under the often frenzied workload you carry. In the end, it’s not the tools, trends or programs but your commitment and determination that make it possible for your students to experience that “aha” moment — that rewarding instant known to all teachers when you helped a student “get it.”
There are so many small things you can do to make a difference in your students’ lives. People may remember certain things they learned in school, but they usually will tell you they remember those things because of the teacher who taught them. More than anything, people remember how their teachers made them feel. If they recall being taught with respect, empathy, humor, kindness and patience, then that “aha” moment became one that endured. This is where mere content delivery is transformed by craft that all good teachers know instinctively. These are essential ingredients of teaching and learning that cannot be put into a package and sold. This is what teachers strive to accomplish for their students every day.
Most of us have saved a letter or two from a parent or a student. Those letters almost always tell us how we made a difference in their lives, how we encouraged them, a small kindness at a critical moment, a poem or story that we shared that touched their hearts, a note we wrote them. Sometimes this feedback is delivered spontaneously, at an unexpected meeting with a former student in a grocery store or the mall. These glimpses into the impact we have had on our students are the things within a teacher’s power that no school reform initiative can take away.
Teachers, your days are long. In our 24/7 world, some of your nights may even be longer. But with each new day, as you face your students, know your own power and follow your instincts. You have chosen an honorable profession. Best to all of you for a fruitful year from someone who has been there.