It’s teacher appreciation week, when excess (and excellent) food appears in the teacher’s lounge and Chipotle offers a free burrito to anyone with a valid teaching ID. It’s a good week. Some of the parents at my school are ordering Chinese for the whole staff tomorrow, and yesterday a stack of papers covered in notes from my students appeared in my school mailbox. It’s nice to be appreciated.
In the spirit of teacher appreciation week, I want to take a moment to reflect on the individuals who constantly inspire me to be a better teacher. I am surrounded by amazing, quality teachers. Yes, I have seen my share of less-than-inspiring teachers, too, but I am honestly awed by the caliber of individuals that are also in this field with me.
My personal friends blow me away. My peers sat in college education classes with me, fought through their first years of teaching the same time I did, and we still call each other or meet for lunch to share “teacher” stories. They are awesome teachers. I don’t think I’m biased just because I’m friends with them. Rather, I’m amazed that I get to be friends with such incredible professionals. They push me to be better just by being who they are.
Emily and I were college roommates for three years, and to this day we’re still among each other’s closest confidants. She teaches middle school, and she is amazing at what she does. She’s constantly trying new, innovative ideas to engage student learning (check out her blog!), and she’s pursuing a Master’s in school administration. I wish I could be as creative as she is.
Johanna and I were also close friends in college, but we’ve bonded even more since then as we’ve followed similar career paths. Over the years we’ve commiserated about the challenges and brainstormed lesson plans together. She constantly impresses me with her understanding of the scope and sequence of the school’s curriculum. She knows exactly where each lesson fits within the bigger picture of not just her class, but within all four years of high school English. She’s made a name for herself among the administration for this, and they have sought her out to help map the curriculum for the whole district.
These friends have been the constant “teacher influences” in my life throughout the six years of my teaching career. However, as a nomadic teacher, I’ve had the privilege to cross paths many excellent teachers.
There was Lori, the teacher whose maternity-leave I covered when I first move to Massachusetts. Taking over at the end of the year, I saw first hand the results of her excellent teaching. The caliber of work her students turned out was jaw-dropping. I’ve never seen its match, honestly. The students loved her, too. That year they dedicated the yearbook to her. And I was set up in direct comparison to her, filling her shoes, teaching her curriculum for two months. I think that was the moment I realized that I have real skill in this field, too. She treated me as a peer and a colleague, not just a sub. She respected me and was excited about my ideas and what I brought to her classroom, even though her classroom was already amazing. It was my third year in the teaching field, but her influence helped me claim my identity as a good teacher.
There was Tony, the much-needed fatherly influence on my students in the urban school in Boston. Tony and I connected quickly, despite many surface-level differences. We were different ages and came from different backgrounds, but we shared a certain realism that seemed to be lacking from many people in that school. Tony didn’t have a teaching degree, but what he taught those kids exceeded anything that he could have learned in education classes. His official subject matter was religion and a class called “stewardship,” but what he really taught students was how to handle life. He focused on interpersonal communications, how to get along with peers and parents, professionalism, personal accountability, and responsibility. When I struggled with how to handle a difficult student, I turned to Tony instead of the school’s administrator. The kids respected him, so I knew I’d get better results, and I knew he had my back. He left not long after I did, and I think the school lost a lot more in him than they did in me. You can find other English teachers. It’s almost impossible to find an influence like Tony.
And there’s the school I’m at now, with the teachers who seven years ago showed me what it meant to care. While the educational foundation here is strong, these teachers want so much more than turn out good scholars. I sit in faculty meetings and listen to them talk about the intentionality of their student/teacher relationships. They make a concerted effort to keep individual students from falling through the cracks. They mentor these kids into leaders, challenge them to be better, and wrestle with the tough issues in the students’ lives. They’re fun, too. I spend many lunches laughing at the antics of my current coworkers, and that’s a good way to spend a day.
I don’t know what’s next for me, but looking back I can see a whole lot of good and a lot of teachers who pushed me to be better myself. I want to keep surrounding myself with professionals who make me want to live up to the standard they set. As with any profession, this isn’t always the case. I’ll admit there have been jobs where I’ve looked around at my coworkers and wondered who I could turn to for inspiration. But then I’d call one of those amazing college friends and be challenged once again.
Teachers, we’re in a tough field. While others are appreciating us, let’s appreciate each other this week, too.