University of Pittsburgh, M.Ed.
Remember how, when you were growing up, there was that teacher (or teachers, if you were lucky) who believed in you and made you feel seen? Who made you feel as if you really COULD accomplish anything you set your mind to, no matter the struggles you faced, or was there to lend a helping hand when you needed it? These teachers are the ones that, no matter what, leave a lasting impression on you. It might be the way that they’re caring but firm, expressing the warm demander that we all yearn for. It might be the way they remember small moments with you over the years-ones you didn’t realize made a lasting impression.
For me, my most influential was one of my high school teachers, Mr. Thomas Burns. Do I remember anything from his AP European History? Not really. (Sorry, Mr. B.) However, it was the way he checked in on my well-being, the way he made a tradition of chicken patty Wednesdays every week when I felt out of place in the lunchroom and took his lunch to eat with me, and the way that we still, to this day, mail cards back and forth, sharing what’s happening in our current life (and that’s just naming a few) that truly made an impact. It’s when, year after year, graduated students came back to visit him and he always made time to see how they continued to grow. The inspiration to teach comes from knowing he made a difference in every single year he taught. Even now, ten years later, he wants to know I’m doing okay.
It’s those lasting impressions that truly show you’ve made a positive impact somewhere, with someone, that fuels my desire to teach. To help students recognize not only what they’re learning, but why they’re learning it and how it’ll help them down the road. It’s teaching students to think critically about the information in front of them and to problem-solve in ways that we can’t imagine that creates hope. It’s fueling their love for whatever makes them happy, but also teaching them to treat others with kindness and compassion.
This will be my fifth year of teaching second grade. Prior to this, I taught one year of K-6 Special Education (which at our district, is identified as a Learning Resource Center, for students who participate mostly in the general education classroom).
I’m currently a lead on our building’s Visible Learning team, which focuses on supporting teachers in identifying ways to help students become assessment-capable learners (or in other words, students who know what they’re learning, how they’re learning, and where they’re going next) through a variety of effective teaching practices.
Previously, I have been on a committee to support first-year teachers, focusing on retaining and supporting new teachers. I was also a Capacity Builder, a district position where I focused on improving my math teaching practice and became a site classroom for second grade teachers within the district to see implementation of teaching strategies.
There are some days when I ask myself this same question. Why, when teaching is not a valued occupation, do we continue to place ourselves in this situation? Why, when our time is not valued, do we continue to put so much time and effort into creating worthwhile lessons that engage students? Because they deserve it. Because their access to quality education is a right, not a privilege.
I went into education to make a difference, and that’s why I remain. Each year, it’s about seeing students blossom in their confidence levels, their social and language skills and their academics. It’s about being a consistent figure in your students’ lives, when some of them don’t have consistency, and their realization that they have someone to support them in a way that’s predictable. It’s about making sure that students have access to quality education that will support them for years to come.
It’s about the little things we do as teachers that make an impact, that we don’t even realize are important to students, but that they deserve. One of my previous students recently told me, “Thank you for letting me come back to join our class on my own time and giving me a safe place to take a break.” All I did was give her time to draw at the back table when she was upset, and asked her to join our class on the carpet when she was ready. I teach because our children need to know that they’re human, that they have emotions, and that they are cared about and loved, no matter their choices.
Unfortunately, Black and brown children, immigrant children, or children with disabilities are often not held to the same expectations as their White peers. Their expectations may be higher (often in terms of behavior) or lower (often in terms of academics). How they’re supported is often similar - White students tend to have more support (monetarily, physical resources, experiences) while Black and brown students tend to have less opportunities. We, as individuals, need to recognize our conscious and unconscious biases and confront them head-on because without understanding where they stem from, we cannot become anti-bias anti-racist educators.
We need to reframe our thinking around how to support our students. Support is not equal - everyone will not benefit from the same things. However, we need to be creative and innovative on how we can help our students become confident leaders and advocates. To do this, we need to give them the tools they need, teach them ways they can express themselves, and speak up for their needs and rights when they aren’t being met.
Providing education to our students is a team effort, and that means including our families in this journey. It means helping them understand the education system and how best to advocate and support their child. Our families are our student’s first and most important teacher, and it’s helping them recognize their influence and power as they continue through schooling.
One day I hope teachers and students will be valued for who they are and not for who society wants them to be.
Teaching is often a thankless job. People outside the profession don’t see the long hours, the constant of “being on” for students, families, and staff. Teachers are also often some of their harshest critics, constantly comparing their lessons to others’ or what they think they should be. But they’re often held to this impossible standard by individuals who haven’t been in a classroom, creating policies that doom them to fail (or what they perceive as failure).
Students are often criticized for not being enough, not doing enough, when they don’t understand the systems and structures that have sometimes been created where they have no option BUT to fail. Students struggle when they don’t have clarity around the expectations and when they’re not held to the same expectations with consistency.
Teachers and students deserve to know that they are appreciated, that they are valued, and they are more than enough, just the way they are.