Do you have what it takes?
There is an alarming trend in my beloved profession today. Recent research suggests that 42% of all teachers leave the profession within their first five years. 42%. That is almost half.
There is a problem. Something is missing. I don’t think it’s the money, although you won’t get rich, teaching. I don’t think it’s the hours—goodness gracious teachers have a lot of time “off”…right? (Or at least that’s what I’m told!..and what I write about earlier in this blog! )
I think it is something else.
Sure it’s important to know the curriculum, to be relevant, to be organized. But for me? You know what that something else is? That something else is very simple. I have learned after almost 20 years in education…the most important thing that teachers must possess..is…heart.
Do you have what it takes?
Think for a moment about the teachers who have impacted you…good…and bad. We all have had experiences that have shaped our education. I would bet that much of what you recall both good…and bad…is how those teachers made you feel.
Mrs. McDonald. Sophia Romano. Ronald Delivuk. Altos Godfrey. Kitty Neihbuhr. Lee Doebler. Ann Hamilton. Sharon Compton. Dr. MacMillan. Jack Riley. You won’t see any of these names decorating a Hollywood star. They aren’t engraved on a Pulitzer.
Mrs. McDonald introduced me to Mr. P. Mooney who taught me how to read.
Sophia Romano let me write a poem based on a song that I loved and actually bring the record in and play it for the class.
Mr. Delivuk. I was in his science class the day the space shuttle Challenger exploded.
Altos Godfrey taught me what it was like to develop film. To see something your eye has only seen from behind a lens—come to life.
Kitty Niehbuhr had me re-read Bridge to Terabithia as an adult and recognize that Terabithia can exist.
Lee Doebler gave me my first and only “B” and made me feel that I was the same person before the “B” as after the “B”…though oddly enough here I am some 20 years on and I’m still talking about it!
Ann Hamilton never spoke above a whisper and used to wear the funkiest scarves.
Sharon Compton let me watch a rose beetle go from larva to pupa to beetle to mealworm and was there when someone vandalized our classroom and glued our science experiment to the chalkboard. She was also there when I failed a social studies test and signed my dad’s name to it. Not well.
Jack Riley who simply encouraged me to “invent myself.”
And then it was Dr. MacMillan who saw something in me that no one else had seen and simply said to me, “Go. Teach.”
These names are the names of my teachers; a representation of the body of educators that worked tirelessly to impart knowledge, ignite thinking but mostly illustrate how important relationships are.
I don’t recall a lot of what I learned from each of them, as I’ve suggested, but I remember their hearts.
Haim Ginott, a teacher, believed the following:
I’ve come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or de-humanized (Ginott, 1972).
That is what is at the heart of teaching.
Do you have what it takes?
These principles that I am going to share with you aren’t taught in education classes. They aren’t even taught in the endless professional learning we engage in as educators. However, for me, they have become the most powerful teaching tools in my repertoire. And each year I learn how to hone them—and live them. (For those of you that are not educators? These thoughts shouldn’t be lost on you either—for these ideas are part of the affective fabric of society.)
You would think this is a no-brainer. However, concern and kindness truly change the environment in the classroom and in the school. Being kind helps students feel welcomed, cared for and loved. We all wake each day with a host of worries. I don’t know your worries personally, but I know the state of the world and I can imagine that some of you sitting reading this could use a little kindness.
The second thing that is at the heart of teaching is compassion.
Teaching is a humanistic profession. We work with people. A compassionate teacher models the feeling of utmost understanding and shows others they are cared for. As a result? You build compassionate people.
Be empathetic. In classrooms, empathy needs to be unleashed. Empathy is such an important trait to have and try to develop in ourselves and the children we teach. How often do you look with your eyes and your heart? Social learning is not happening in our homes today; therefore it must happen in our schools. To create empathy you have to prepare the safe space, lead by example, engage in storytelling and problem solving—and ultimately reflect and act.
This is one of the hardest traits a teacher can be fluid with. We are bombarded with negativity and one hundred and one reasons to be negative. It seems most days there are more problems than solutions. But no one likes an Eeyore. Teachers are blessed to be change agents daily. If you foster positivity, it will come back to you. There is always a silver lining in teaching—and some days it may just be that one child that you are really struggling with—is absent.
You are a creator. A maker. A designer. You are a builder.
A great teacher bridges gaps and builds relationships. Think about the environment you create for your kids.
Create an environment for students that is engaging and curious.
Build relationships with your students. Build relationships with your peers. Build relationships with your parents. And most importantly? Continue to build on your knowledge, your craft—because just when you think you’ve got it all under control?
You’ll be reminded that you aren’t quite there yet!
Have a sense of humor. Many years ago a very dear friend used to share, “kids are fun…kids are fun…kids are fun..” and at the time, I didn’t understand that. It’s a great mantra to adopt. Kids are fun. They are typically curious and innocent and witty and silly. If you keep this perspective? Your days will be that much more meaningful. Sarcasm to some is a low form of wit—but some children thrive on sarcasm. Laugh at yourself and laugh with your students. I remember the first time I laughed uncontrollably with my children. I was reading The BFG by Roald Dahl. Ever read it? The chapter on Whizpoppers? Well. I failed to preview the book (Fatal error number one for a teacher) and got so cracked up at what I was reading that I seriously could not breathe. It was if this wave of interest and camaraderie and family washed over my class and the entire environment was changed. I try every week to share a joke with my students. My favorite? What’s brown and sticky.
Lastly…and my favorite…ignite. You need to uncover hidden treasures, possibilities and magic…and watch the delight in your students’ eyes. Take them places they haven’t been before.
I had a student who had never seen a revolving door. We were in my precious city on a fantastic, educational, engaging field trip. And Kelsey was mesmerized by the door. After being told by the security guard that the students could NOT go in the door? We did anyway. (Much to the security guard’s frown. But come on. The child had NEVER seen a revolving door!)
Last year? It was geese. My students couldn’t believe the gaggle of geese that had landed on the field at school. I let them have 60 seconds of a wild goose chase…teachable moment? You betcha. Figurative language. When we say someone is going on a wild goose chase…you have just experienced it.
If you teach with heart? Teaching is not about you. You won’t get that star on the walk of fame either. In fact, the only time you will feel famous is on a quick run to Walmart when you are severely underdressed and are likely picking up a six pack of beer only to turn around and see one of your students barreling toward you with his her parent behind them screaming, “LOOK! It’s my teacher…” (they honestly can’t believe a teacher is even out of the school building!)
Do you have what it takes?
I implore you to start teaching with heart. I promise you, if you allow yours to beat for those kiddoes in transformational ways, you honestly will not believe how their hearts will touch you, too.