It’s been an emotional year of edu-quarrels over standardized testing, teacher tenure, and state standards. Yes, teachers are constantly defending their profession and looking for ways to ensure all students have access to the high quality education they deserve. It’s a difficult, never-ending, sometimes thankless task that we take on when we decide to pursue being an educator. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the never ending struggle of achievement-gap closing and raising test scores and end up believing that we can’t possibly make a difference.
Rather than repeat that rhetoric, as the calendar year closes, I wanted to reflect on a few things I appreciate this time of year about being a teacher.
10. Summers off mean I get to attend awesome conferences like Twitter Math Camp.
Yes, those usually come out of my own pocket. And yes, TMC15 being in Los Angeles isn’t going to be cheap. But how fortunate are we that on a regular basis in the summer, groups of driven, passionate educators gather across the country to help better themselves and help others do the same. There may be other professions that have numerous conferences filled with great opportunities, but I’d be willing to bet that inspired teachers who voluntarily attend professional development opportunities make some of the greatest professional experiences on the planet.
9. Today is Tuesday, and I had the opportunity to have lunch with just my husband.
My husband is also a teacher, and I know this isn’t a privilege that every educator has. But these extra-special moments I get with him are priceless and precious. He’s supported me in every endeavor I’ve pursued and helped to guide me through mistakes I’ve made with an infinite amount of kindness and without a speck of judgement. I’m confident that his understanding of me as a teacher has strengthened our relationship in un-measurable ways.
8. The extra time during winter break allows me to learn an outdoor winter activity that I can do with my daughter.
Returning from vacation to a balmy 5 degrees (Fahrenheit) and a clear sky makes me feel like the sun is mocking me. Fellow Minnesota teacher, Casey Rutheford, challenged me to explore a winter activity. I’ll admit, I resist attempting any wintry feats simply because of the outdoor temperature. The extra days off over the winter holiday will allow me to bundle up and try something new and maybe even discover a talent I didn’t know I had.
7. I have the chance to be a positive role model for kids.
I purposefully leave my twitter handle public. I know that everything I post there can be scrutinized and sometimes taken out of context. I use this public forum, however, as a platform to spread positivity. I’m not perfect, but I’d like to think that any person reading it would see an optimistic, caring individual. I don’t see being a role model as a burden but as a challenge for continual personal growth.
6. Each class period, I get to experience the creativity of my students.
A lot of teachers will tell you that what they love most about teaching is the “light bulb” moments kids have when they “get it.” I enjoy those as well, but what’s a hundred times more gratifying is when kids can explain their thinking in creative ways and enlighten their fellow classmates. Sporadically, the student doing the “out of the box” explaining is the one who struggles with their confidence in their math abilities. And that experience is icing on the numerical cake.
5. Every once and a while, a former student will contact me and boast about the awesome things they are doing.
Recently, I received a letter from a student I had about 5 years ago. He was in remedial math, felt that many teachers didn’t look past his disinterest in academics and failing grades. One day, I sat him down and told him that I believed in his ability to chase his dreams, if he desired to do so. I’m so grateful that he took the time to write to me and tell me that he is now working in education and has used my words as motivation.
4. I get to teach what I’m passionate about.
My brother and his wife got me an entirely math-themed Christmas gift this year because they know that mathematics is my passion. I don’t know very many people outside of education that work day in and day out in a field that drives them. This fulfillment is greater than any dollar amount on a paycheck.
3. Every day is another golden opportunity to learn something new in my field.
I spent this evening doing geometry with Justin Aion. I’ve blogged before about my geometric struggles, and I’ve used them to help motivate me to learn more about a topic I’m out of practice in. Justin has a knack for tough geometry problem solving. I’m happy to report that I’m improving because of my persistence (and his patience) with my attempting these problems. I’d recommend to every math teacher to find a math buddy.
2. I have a chance to stand up for marginalized students.
I don’t think teachers take this part of their job serious enough. This article changed the way I thought about how I address student interactions in my class and made me realize the duty we have to protect all students and give them a voice. I believe that no matter what subject we teach, it’s vitally important for us to break down the walls of status and make our classrooms safe for the kids we teach.
1. Every day, when I go to work, I have the opportunity to make someone’s life better.
The most important, yet most undervalued task we have as educators is to forge meaningful relationships with our students. Our students won’t remember the formula for a circle in standard form. They will remember that we genuinely cared for them and nurtured their emotional well-being. These lasting impressions are part of our job that can never be replaced by tutorial videos and cutting-edge technology. They can only be developed through personal interaction, and I’m blessed to engage in those interactions each day.
I want to wish a Happy New Year to all of my fellow educators. Make 2015 the year you change the world.