Life: When I was a kid, I had dreams of becoming the first female, MLB baseball player, an astronaut, or even a novelist. As I grew older, with the future creeping closer, I would ask my mother what profession she thought would suit me. And of course, I would react just like a teenager and scoff at my mother’s suggestion.
When I entered the teaching profession, I humbly, if not begrudgingly admitted, “You were right.” And of course, that is just one of many instances she has been able to teasingly say, “I told you so!”
She, as well as my father, were my first teachers, and like any good teacher, they were able to see something in me that I was not yet able to see myself – potential. When I entered the classroom, students’ potential became the cornerstone of my instructional approach. How will a student truly see their potential as a lawyer if they never participate in a mock trial? Or see their potential as an interior designer if they never work with color theory? Or see their potential as a community organizer if they never rally their peers to support a cause? Of course, students may come to these conclusions on their own. But as educators, we can unlock students’ potential and provide them with experiences that broaden their possibilities – that show the myriad ways a person can contribute to the world around them.
Inquiry: I treaded water my entire first year of teaching, and others may argue that I drowned. Although my second year improved, it was not until I engaged in practitioner inquiry that I found another cornerstone of my identity as an educator.
Teachers ask questions about their classroom all the time. I found myself constantly wondering if anything I was doing was good enough, difficult enough, effective enough. Do the kids like this lesson? How could I make this better? Are the kids learning? What are they learning? When I finally crafted a specific question about students’ learning, made a plan to address the issue, executed that plan, and studied the results, my approach to instruction dramatically shifted. In the educational climate of scripted curriculum and down-to-the-minute pacing, I wondered what would happen if students were challenged to use literary lenses throughout their reading of a piece of literature. I wondered what outcomes would result from letting students write their own script for the classroom as each one developed unique interpretations through their reading. Ultimately, I came to realize that the bar we set for our students’ will be the bar that they reach (sometimes with help along the way). They will realize their potential when we encourage them to strive for it.
Teaching: I love teaching. I loved teaching middle schoolers for almost a decade. Yet, teaching is incredibly hard work. From the moment students walk through the door, teachers are responsible for their learning, growth, and well-being. Those precious minutes are reserved for educating, but we do so much more than that. In any given day, we take on the role of nurse, counselor, listener, empathizer, and problem-solver. So, when do we grade homework and essays, contact parents and partnerships, complete the never-ending paperwork, or create engaging lessons and unit plans? You know the answer: before school, after school, and many hours on the weekend.
The challenges for teachers are many and real. They touch both our personal and professional selves. I felt them in the classroom, and I still see them today when mentoring my student teachers, my new position as an educator. By observing and working with a diverse group of educators, I am afforded the opportunity to keep improving the final cornerstone of my practice, teaching. No matter if you’re instructing or giving feedback or showing your kid how to shoot a basketball, the work is hard and rewarding. It also takes time, which is why I want to provide support for teachers that can save them some of those precious minutes that can then be spent on students or with family. I look forward to continuing to do the work, continuing to ask good questions, continuing to unlock the potential in others, and continuing to provide guidance that allows teachers to focus on what matters most: the kids.