After attending an educator’s conference this past weekend, I was inspired with a question to ponder, “How does my background impact my effectiveness as an educator?” I am sure you recognize the phrase, “My life flashed before my eyes.” Well, the defining moments in my life did flash before my eyes as I analyzed my life and determined the key experiences which led me to become an effective educator.
The first defining moment which shaped me to be the teacher I am would be spending numerous afternoons with my Grandma while growing up. She was a Swedish immigrant, and she subconsciously taught me that it is admirable to remain loyal to two different countries. She loved to sing and pray in Swedish, but was proud to speak, read, and write in English. It was a privilege for her to go to school to gain English-speaking skills to go home and teach her family. Grandma taught me that being an immigrant is something to be proud of, and that getting to America involves a lot of hard work and determination. As an educator, I always make it a priority to honor the cultures of my students in my classroom.
The next teacher-defining moment in my life occurred when I worked as a housekeeper at a furniture store during college. I spent about four hours each night cleaning hardwood floors, mopping, sweeping, cleaning toilets, dusting, polishing, etc. Not to mention shoveling snow off the sidewalks during an occasional snowstorm! Or how about cleaning up the pig manure from the owner’s boots? Did I forget to include….. it was a four-story building built in 1900? This job was NOT for the faint of heart…. or muscle!! I remember coming home for a visit and complaining to my grandmother about my misery as a housekeeper. I was irate about being treated like a servant. I do recall our conversation so vividly. “Grandma, why do I have to do this menial work and be treated unfairly? I am training to be a teacher. This will never help me in education!” Grandma laughed and said, “Doing a job like this will teach you humility. To become great at something in life will involve understanding that there is room for you to grow. Parents of your future students will respect the fact that you understand where they work, how they are treated, and how every job is valuable in its role in life.”
Finally, the last defining moment from my background which impacts me as an educator would be the story of Buddy (renamed to maintain his privacy). During my third year of teaching, I had Buddy in my second grade classroom. He was the dirtiest, stinkiest, slowest child I had ever encountered in my life. Buddy had scars on his 7-year-old head, created by his father who used to use his scalp as an ash tray. His hands, ears, and feet had so much dirt caked around them, I couldn’t see his skin color. I literally held my breath when I worked with him. Buddy wouldn’t talk, write, or read. He tried to make friends but didn’t really know how. The problem was, we didn’t have a counselor at my school. We also didn’t have a resident nurse. CPS was called several times to get Buddy help, but they never followed through. Then during the holidays I took one of my students home, and she mentioned that Buddy was living with her (as they were cousins). Knowing that they had eight children in the family already, I was shocked and asked where Buddy was living in their mobile home. “Oh, he lives in the chicken coop in the backyard,” she nonchalantly offered. I called CPS again. Once again, no help. Why did this impact me as a teacher? It taught me a valuable lesson. If the state agencies and families do not provide the safe, nurturing environment for my students, it is up to ME as their educator to be their advocate to maintaining a healthy, happy life. No excuses.
What are the defining moments in your life which impact your effectiveness as an educator?