Should I stay or should I go? This is the very question I’ve asked myself every year, with guilt, after successfully concluding each school year for the past seven years. The question is one that is not easy to answer because there are just too many reasons stemming from the question, “Why should I stay?”
The Whys of Teaching
I have thought about leaving because the trauma I face brings so much pain and stress, but I choose to stay because I can be a source of relief, comfort and healing to the child hurting greater and bearing burdens heavier than what I could ever carry.
We hear about all the great teachers in the counseling office. The one who set the times tables to the tune of Pharrell Williams’ “Happy,” ensuring kids will remember them forever, even if it will take a while to get to eight times nine. Mr. Jones, the history teacher who dressed up like Benjamin Franklin for an entire week and never once broke character. The tenth grade English teacher who finally explained “I after e” in a way that made sense. When you put that much thought into a lesson, it’s makes for memorable teaching.
Of course, that’s not the only way teachers become memorable. The teacher who said just the right words at just the right time to the bully who had incredible art talent, making the student more comfortable with who they really were, and less of a bully. The teacher who wore the cut-rate perfume a special needs student gave her at Christmas, every time that student had a spelling test—the same perfume she’d wear when attending that student’s graduation from medical school. The teacher who shows up at the Saturday soccer league and cheers loudly for all of her students on the sidelines, even though her students are spread throughout both teams, and it’s forty degrees out.
You can’t analyze a test score to determine what these teachable moments do to the learning and learning habits of students, but everyone seems to understand what they do to students’ learning, and students’ lives. Like recess, these teachable moments inspire in ways we can’t quite measure, but we still know their worth is beyond measure.
These aren’t just discrete, feel-good stories. Most of my counseling work for the last thirteen years has involved working with students in college placement. In that time, every student—every single one—has had the chance to go to college; most have earned at least one merit scholarship, and for those who have been out for four years or more, nearly all of them have finished college on time.
For several years our kindergarten and third grade students were accustomed to pairing up as reading buddies to improve their literacy skills through a mentee/mentor relationship. As a result of that success we decided to use a similar model to encourage our kids to collaboratively explore coding.
At the end of each school year, I use my final class to share a last lecture on things I learned from my students. They are generally surprised by the concept of a teacher learning, but teachers are by nature learners, always seeking new opportunities to grow.
Recently, I had one of those opportunities when the 2017 state teachers of the year visited the Department of Education. These teachers are wonderful representatives of the best talent in the teaching profession, and I gleaned so much from my discussions with these exceptional educators. While they all come from diverse locations and experiences, they all exhibit core characteristics that all teachers can learn from.
These characteristics were apparent throughout a conversation with Sydney Chaffee, who was recently announced as the 2017 National Teacher of the Year. The first thing that stood out to me about Sydney was her passion for her students. She managed to always bring our discussion back to her students, and in doing so, her passion for their success was unmistakable.