Most of us end up with no more than five or six people who remember us. Teachers have thousands of people who remember them for the rest of their lives.
— Andy Rooney
Our school district welcomed 106 new teachers to our family this week. As has been the tradition for many years, New Teacher Orientation was held. Our new teachers learned about the mission and vision of the district, the educator’s code of ethics, Response to Intervention (RTI), Project Wisdom and PBIS, the use of the Mimio, teacher websites, and Google Apps for Education. Being part of the team delivering training to the new teachers was an experience for me. In the fall of 2007, I was new to the district and participated in a similar training. I remember being anxious, eager, and overwhelmed all at the same time. Although I was new to the district, I was not new to teaching. I had previously worked at the local alternative school yet I was filled with a variety of conflicting emotions. Yesterday, I delivered the Google Apps for Education training to the new teachers. Oddly enough, I believe many of those teachers were anxious, eager, and overwhelmed just as I was when I began my career here.
As I was talking to them about implementing Google Apps, I looked around the room. I saw so many different emotions on their faces. Some were so excited because they were thinking about the many uses for Google Apps, and others were frustrated because they did not think they were grasping the material as quickly as they should. Standing at the front of the room yesterday reminded me of my many days in the classroom. As I presented the material, I wondered if I was getting through to the new teachers just as I often wondered if I was getting through to my students. Being an Instructional Technology Coach is a lot like being a teacher. You plan and plan and plan and have no idea of the outcome of the lesson. You have no idea how your students are going to receive what you are saying. I wondered yesterday about my lesson, and I wondered how the new teachers would feel once the school year began, and they were presenting lessons. I wasn’t tasked with talking to the new teachers about anything other than Google Apps, but if I could have, I would have shared some of my own thoughts about teaching, building relationships, and making a difference.
Teaching is hard. I don’t mean hard like calculus, physics, or any of the math and science classes I struggled with as a student, but hard emotionally, physically, and spiritually. I can admit there were days I cried. I cried at the untimely deaths of several of my students, I cried because of my students and for my students, and I cried just because I didn’t know what else to do. There were many days I would leave school, go home, get a glass of orange juice, and go to bed. I remember my first year at Griffin High. I taught five sections of ninth grade literature and one section of honors tenth grade literature. Many of my ninth grade students played football. Inevitably, the question would be asked every Friday in the Fall, “Are you going to the game tonight?” My intentions were always good; however, I never made it to a single game that first year. It’s not because I didn’t want to go. As a proud Griffin High graduate, I understand the seriousness of Friday nights in Griffin. Griffin football is a tradition. Let me rephrase that. Griffin football is a winning tradition and very important to this community. I did not go to any games that first year because I was so physically drained by the end of the week. I would go home each Friday afternoon with every intention of going to the game later that evening. I would go home, sit down to eat dinner, and wake up on Saturday morning still sitting on the couch wearing the clothes I wore to work the day before. I was tired, and my body demanded rest at the end of each week in order to be prepared for the next. With every fiber of my being, I know that God called me to be a teacher, but there were many days I questioned His wisdom. I wondered if I was reaching my students; I wondered if they knew how much I cared; I wondered if somebody else could do a better job. Each time I felt like I should pursue other employment opportunities, God sent a message telling me to stay put. I listened.
I stayed because that’s where I was supposed to be. Yes, I was frustrated on many occasions, but I also found many reasons to be proud of my students and for my students. I was proud of the work I was doing with the debate team, the student council, and the swim team. My students found success in and out of the classroom. They were leaders in our award winning JROTC Bear Battalion, our state championship winning football team, and student government leaders at such prestigious universities like the University of Georgia and Oral Roberts University. I am not even presumptive enough to think that their success was because of me; however, I do think that in spite of my sometimes gruff exterior, they knew I cared and wanted the best for them. I have taught all grade levels from 6th grade thru 12th grade. One of my biggest joys is seeing my students walk across the field after receiving their diplomas. One year, during a conversation with my seniors, one of them announced that he would not be participating in graduation because it really wasn’t that big of a deal. Looking back, I probably got angrier than I should have, but I did get angry. I told him and his classmates that by not participating, he was denying his teachers, and in particular me, the opportunity to see the results of our hard work. I told the class that since I don’t have children of my own, being able to watch them receive their diploma was a big deal to me because to me, they were my children. I also told the young man that he was being selfish. Not my finest teacher moment, I know. I finished my speech, and we went on with the lesson. I didn’t think any more about the conversation. Fast forward to graduation. I am sitting on the field with my colleagues, and we are watching our students receive diplomas amid cheers and well-wishes from the school administration and the board of education. I always sit on the front row of the faculty section so I can have a good seat. I want to be able to see my kids when they achieve one of the best moments in their high school career. When the young man who had earlier said he would not participate in the graduation ceremony came down from the stage, he stopped in front of me and said, “I did this for you.” He remembered. He remembered how important it was for me to see him graduate. When it seems like we don’t make a difference or that we are toiling in vain, we have to remember times like that. He remembered.
As we begin another year of educating students in our district, it serves me well to remember that God called me to teach. I’m not teaching students anymore, but I am still a teacher. It feels a little odd knowing that there will be a new group of students at Griffin High, and I won’t be a part of their educational journey; however, I am okay with that knowledge. There are others there to take my place. I am okay with it because I know that others have been called to teach as well. I saw the joy and anticipation in the eyes of the new teachers at orientation. I could sense that they were ready to face any and all challenges presented to them. I can rest easy and move on to the next phase in my career because I know that there will be someone to take my place at graduation next year. They will cheer just as loudly as I did. They will have made a difference. They will know it, and the students will know it.
I will say it again. Teaching is hard. It is the hardest thing I have ever done, but it is also the most rewarding thing I have ever done. My wish for our new teachers is that they remember why they became teachers in the first place, and let those reasons guide them in their classrooms every single day of the school year. On my first day of new teacher orientation, the group of new teachers was told, “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” It’s true. Care about the students as if they are your own. They will appreciate it, and let you know they appreciate just when you need it the most.