Ten years ago, I said thank you to my very first class of 4th graders. Thank you for their dedication. Thank you for their persistence. Thank you for their love. I know I cried as I hugged each and every one of them, thanking them for our year.
Today, I will hug as many 7th graders as I can. I will thank them for a year filled with laughs. With challenges. With growth. With love. Teaching is by far the best thing I can do with my professional time. When I look back on ten years of teaching, I cannot help but think of all the things I have learned. Of how I have grown. Of how I am still growing. There is so much to learn, still.
But ten years has also taught me a lot about what it means to be a teacher. What it means to get up every morning and do this job. Not just because you have to, but because you can. And as always, the kids I have had the privilege of teaching are the ones who have taught me the biggest lessons. The ones who have made me who I am today. They taught me…
That’s it’s not about me. That the needs of the students should always be my focus. That when I am wondering what I need to change, they are where I start. That my assumptions, while sometimes on point, will never be as accurate as what they will actually tell me. That their advice, if we only take it, will transform our teaching for the better.
…but sometimes it is. Sometimes I am the problem. Sometimes I am the reason a child hates school. Sometimes my decisions, even if made with the best of intentions, will harm rather than build. It is my job to make sure that I know that. That I realize the immense power that we have over the future of the very children we teach. That I ask the hard questions in order for me to grow and to create an experience that works for every child as much as humanly possible.
They have taught me…
That a smile will always go further than a well-developed lesson plan. That my attitude when it comes to the very kids I get to teach is a choice. That saying hello, that smiling, that telling them how much I love this job, how much I love them, will make a difference. Even to those who push the hardest.
….but sometimes a well-developed lesson plan can move mountains. When students plan lessons with us, offer up their ideas, and invest their energy, we are already further than we could be without them. That lessons need choice, relevance, and challenge. That every child deserves to be held to high expectations, and every child needs a second chance when something doesn’t work.
That those who push you the hardest, leave the biggest marks. That often those kids who see no value in school, no value in you, are the ones you will fight the hardest for. That it is not your job to save them from their lives, themselves, or their circumstances, but that you are there to love, to offer up ways to navigate their lives, and to remind them that they have worth. That in this world, they matter.
…but sometimes they don’t want you to be in their corner. And that’s ok, too. We can try to connect with every child we teach, knowing that for some we may be exactly the type of teacher they do not want. The biggest gift we then can offer up is, besides not giving up, to help them forger connections with others. To help them have someone they connect with, so they know that they are not alone.
They have taught me…
That I don’t know it all. Especially the more I teach, I realize how little I know. Ten years ago I didn’t think about my privilege. I didn’t think about how marginalization hurt the very kids I taught. How inequitable our school system is. How white skewed my classroom library was. How I didn’t know everything. But I grew, and I will continue to grow. I will continue to admit when I screw up, and it happens a lot, and I will continue to apologize, to use the power I have been given to fight for others and with others.
…but I do know some things. I know that love matters. That research matters. That conviction matters. That sometimes being the sole voice for change is scary, but necessary. That we grow best through kindness, but sometimes kindness will not tear down walls. That what we believe in directly influences how we teach, but that our bigger job is not to give students our opinion, but instead make space for them to develop their own. That every day I get to work with kids is a better day. That there is hope. That this new generation of kids we are raising are changing the world. That I would rather be a part of the fight, then safe on the sidelines.
I became a teacher because I hoped to make a difference. I hoped to create a classroom where every child felt safe, where every child felt loved. I don’t know if I have succeeded, but I do know that teaching has changed me. That I would not be the person I am without the influence of the many incredible children I have taught and who have taught me.
I came into this profession to make a difference but in the end, it was the kids that made the biggest difference to me.
If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child Also consider joining our book club study of it, kicking off June 17th. This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block. If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students. Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.