A pep talk for teach­ers in the new year

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Anne Spigelmire Groth Anne Spigelmire Groth is a re­tired Baltimore County Public Schools teacher. Her email is anne.groth@me.com.

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.

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