I was recently at a beginning-of-the-school-year-pep-assembly-for-teachers. I believe that the premise was to speak to teachers about how they make a difference, and encourage them to embrace the many, many challenges that will be faced this school year. What I noticed, however, was a small group of teachers being recognized. A handful of students were mentioned: those who earned a perfect ACT score, those about to attend a particular university, and some who were the National Merit Scholars. Teachers of those particular students were asked to stand up and “Claim those scores.” It was nice, but something very important was missing. Ninety percent, or more, of the teachers in the district were still sitting. Was there really a difference in the quality of teacher between those standing and those sitting? I doubt it! Questions started firing off in my head “What about the students who earned a 35 on the ACT? What about the other universities? What about the teacher who dedicates her day to students who struggle?
As I thought, I started reflecting on some of the teaching that I see every day in the building where I teach. My school has a “Life Skills” class. Not one student in that classroom will be earning a perfect score on the ACT, nor will any of them attend an Ivy League school for college. In spite of this, the life skills teacher knows the value of each student in her room. She teaches them to read and write, she teaches them grooming skills, she teaches them how to ask for what they need. She teaches them how to shop at the grocery store. When her students are ready to move on to high school, she has a party, decorates her classroom with that particular school’s colors, and gifts the child with spirit wear so that he/she knows about the high school before they ever step in the door. She too deserves applause.
We have a speech teacher who recently visited Alaska. When she returned, she taught her students about the Iditarod. These students (who will not be earning a perfect score on the ACT) were using maps of Alaska to trace the routes. Students were reading fiction and informational text about the the great sled race, the dogs, and the mushers. They learned about the mushers, and kept track of them through the news and on-line. All the while, students were making improvements with their own speech through these valuable lessons. This teacher deserves applause.
We have a science teacher who works with students who are struggling readers. These students will not be attending an Ivy League school. However, their science teacher places exciting books about science topics on their desks, and these students look through the books when they come into the room everyday. Without realizing they are doing so, these students are being exposed to high-quality expository text that they would never choose for themselves. Applause for this instructor?
We have a math teacher who works with kids in an inclusion class (probably not going to ace the ACT). In spite of this, she stays late to tutor students who are struggling. She teaches, she explains, she shows, she draws, she lets students use math manipulatives. She tries to prepare each student individually by using a variety of methods. She lets students practice, provides reteaching, and lets them try again, always conscious that learning is a process. Her students may not earn a 36 on the ACT, but they will be prepared to do well. That’s high-quality teaching for all students. Give her applause.
I watched a teacher interact with an angry student. This student had been labeled with a behavior disorder, already had a track-record-of-trouble, and was about to make a series of choices that would have added much more to his record. The teacher stepped up, stayed calm, and started asking questions of the young man. After several minutes, it was obvious that they had a relationship with trust and respect. The student was given responsibility for his next actions, and was given choices. It was obvious that he had grown quite a bit, and that the teacher had spent many months helping the student to learn how to be upset without creating more issues for himself. That deserves applause.
So, if you are a teacher, you are worth so much more than the name of the university that your students may eventually attend. You might have students that planned to drop out of school by 16. Maybe something you said or did helped that student to stay committed to earning a high school diploma. That is praise-worthy! You might have students who don’t know what they are interested in, but you help them figure that out. That deserves applause. You might have a student who was content with handing in passable work until they had you as a teacher. You may have taught that student that it is worth taking on a challenge, even when it is difficult. You may have convinced a student that even if they can’t be the star of the basketball team, that they can run and be fit that way. You may have taught a student that life isn’t about being perfect, or getting a perfect score, but that it is about serving others, finding your interests, working hard, and being the best individual you can be. That, teachers, is praiseworthy. Claim that!!!