If you have ever spoken to me about the amazing district I work for, Oregon School District in Wisconsin, chances are you will have heard tales of how amazing our principal, Shannon Anderson, is. Shannon is a huge reason to why I am a seventh grade teacher, she is the reason many of us love our school, and she is also the type of principal that I wish every single educator could have. The following blog is her welcome back letter to us, it moved me, I hope it will move you, and I am so grateful that she allowed me to share it here.
Twenty-two years ago I was a first year teacher at Verona Area High School. There was more than one occasion that first year when I paused during class in a moment of panic and thought to myself, “Why in the world did someone actually entrust me with this classroom full of students? I have no idea what I am doing!” I was teaching five different classes in four different classrooms. I was planning lessons the night before, I was afraid of parents, and I had crazy grading practices (Why not give extra credit for bringing in boxes of Kleenex? I needed Kleenex boxes!). I look back on that first year of teaching and cringe.
That same year Jacklyn Keller was a ninth grade student in my Art Foundations class. She drew with confidence and grace. I remember her maturity and inquisitive nature. Jacklyn took several classes with me while in high school, and she never ceased to amaze me with her artistic skills and insightful observations about art-making and life in general. Sometimes when I stop to pause and reflect on my former life as a high school teacher, Jacklyn is one of the students that brings a smile to my face.
Several weeks ago, I was attending Literacy by the Lakes, a three-day conference for Wisconsin teachers sponsored by the University of Wisconsin-Madison. On the first day, I noticed a woman sitting in front of me that looked like Jacklyn. I tried to read her name tag every time she passed me, but I could not read it. Finally, I gathered up the courage to ask her if she ever attended school in Verona. Before the words were even out of my mouth, she exclaimed, “Ms. Roper, it is you! You were my favorite teacher in high school!” (Yes, Ms. Roper was my maiden name.) I was stunned for a minute. I was stunned because it was indeed Jacklyn. I was stunned because she actually remembered me. But I was even more stunned that I was her favorite teacher from high school. Sure, I remember having a good relationship with her when she was in high school, but I never thought I was her favorite.
Jacklyn, a former high school teacher, is now a elementary school librarian in Madison. During our short conversation, it was clear to me that she is passionate about the learners she serves and committed to making learning engaging and successful. As we ended our conversation, I was a bit overwhelmed with the sense of pride I felt. Jacklyn was no longer the amazing teenager I remembered; she is now a passionate and successful educator.
During the 2016-17 school year, you will touch the lives of hundreds of students like Jacklyn. The relationships you develop with them will likely last longer in their memories than the curriculum or lessons you teach them. Some students will let you know how much you mean to them, and some will not. In fact, in many cases you will likely never know the impact you will have on their lives. I think that is one of the most amazing things about dedicating your life to education: you can make a difference every single day and not even realize it. Something you do or say can change students’ thinking. You can inspire them to take risks. You can encourage them when they are ready to to give up. You can help them to see something within themselves they cannot yet see. You can expose them to new possibilities. You can help them turn mistakes into opportunities. But most importantly, you can show them you love and care for them.
Looking back, I acknowledge the fact that I did not have much of clue about curriculum, assessment, best practices, engaging lessons, or communication with parents that first year of teaching. However, my brief reunion with Jacklyn reminded me of Maya Angelou’s words: “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” Even though I had a lot to learn about teaching as a first year teacher, I was able to develop some positive relationships with my students that made a difference.
As we prepare to welcome students back into our learning spaces (at OMS), I want to thank you in advance for the impact you will have on their lives. You will make a difference every single day!