I was sitting in traffic the other day, and I looked over to see our school district’s override sign waving in the breeze. Its clear message spelled out the benefit of passing the override to increase the job market of the city. I wasn’t too impressed as a teacher. Then I glanced at the truck stopped in front of me, which had an advertisement of a local building company, “We exist to build great things.” What an inspiring motto to have! If only the people who shape the political infrastructure of education could apply it to our sole purpose as educators: “We exist to build great people.”
Sometimes I get mentally and emotionally bogged down in the mire of the “what ifs” of more district cuts, the tug-of-war of the Arizona politicians over who and what defines the perimeters of our educational system, and the increased expectations of new curriculum and decreased time to digest it all. Quite honestly, I am preparing myself for the worst of another failed district override this fall, derived by the sense of the apathetic and negative perception of our school district by the voters in this area. So how can I be the best teacher I can be amidst this negative environment? Let’s boil it down to the three main key points of that motto.
We exist. It comes back to, “Why did I become a teacher?” and “Why am I still a teacher?” I think exploring educational existentialism is the key to getting past these days of despair. Why do writers write and artists create art amidst rejection and poverty? Because they passionately believe that it’s why they exist- part of their genetic makeup. I feel like teaching is part of my DNA, and therefore I exist to teach. Nothing beats the look of amazement when students observe metamorphosis for the first time or find out the “secrets” of important historical events. Who can compete with the joy of Crazy Sock Day or the sense of accomplishment when mastering double-digit subtraction with regrouping?
To build. Building each other up is an important concept I always include in my classroom community-building activities. I feel that children need to be taught to “build up” one another in order to prevent bullying and sustain meaningful relationships. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “building” means to “the art, work, or business of assembling materials into a structure.” We only have nine months to do our part to assemble the essential materials into part of the creation of a great person. From this, we must remember: every moment in the classroom is valuable and should yield the best teaching, learning, and relationship experiences. Also, we are working as a team to create great people—our teaching is the cornerstone of the students’ future educational experiences. If we are not providing our best to our students, we are not just letting them down, but making the work of our colleagues ten times more challenging. Vertical team collaboration is the key to keeping the dialogue open to purposeful reflections of curriculum-building amongst grade levels.
Great people. I don’t teach to produce mediocre American citizens with less-than-their best contributions to society. Do you? Do your students know that? Do we hold the bar up high and let our students know we will hold them accountable to be their very best? Do we keep tabs on our students beyond the one year we have them in the classroom? My favorite part of being a teacher is going into the classrooms of former students and having meaningful conversations with them about their goals, present-day educational experiences, and the future. Students are motivated to keep doing their best when they know that their teachers are still invested in them beyond the one year in the classroom. Having a student mentoring program available on your campus in another way to build meaningful relationships to ensure students become great people. If we are to bridge the achievement gap of impoverished children and English Language Learners, it will be through relationships as invested adults and students work as partners to ensure they become great people.
I exist to build great people. Do you? Let our actions and words project that belief to those around us, and hopefully it will inspire change in education.