Recently my assistant superintendent, Rob Thornell, wrote a post titled “Never Forget Why You Started?” It got me to thinking. After sharing with fellow #blogamonth-er and creator of the #BlogAMonth Challenge, Drew Frank (@ugafrank) via Twitter, the importance for educators to constantly be mindful of why we do what we do, I had a plan for my next post, or so I thought.
I know why I do what I do. I know why I got started in education. Sharing it… well that is in a very quiet place I don’t normally share. Even more intimidating was a conversation not too long ago where a colleague told me they use my Google site to learn about my achievements and accomplishments, they read my blog to know my heart.
I was an incredibly shy child. So afraid to speak up, I would hide at the back of the room or shrink in my desk to avoid being called to answer. I hated reading in round robin reading and even suffered the embarrassment of being moved from the high reading group to a lower reading group because I struggled so much with the reading aloud… even though my comprehension was spotless.
In shyness there is an unusual amount of shame as well. I struggled for my own voice, a peer group I was accepted in, and adults that understood that just because you were blonde, blue-eyed and had the appearance of a stable home environment there was more going on just under the surface.
I was a different kind of child. My father told me that. So different he struggled to connect with me. There was a constant state of discord, discontent and disagreement in our home and for some reason I carried a burden of responsibility for that climate.
I had teachers that added to that burden. My second grade teacher is the most negative memory of that. To this day I can note the time and place I stopped believing I was a smart, creative and wonderful person and began believing I was less than. That was a reason I do what I do now… to be the opposite. To inspire children, believe in them when they don’t believe in themselves and help them know that they have a unique purpose in life that only they can fulfill.
But I also had teachers that inspired me in quite the opposite way. Mrs. Mayes, my third grade teacher, was my first memory of what a good teacher was. She was always brightly dressed in both clothing and her smile. I know I learned things because I would go home with my head bursting with new thinking. She was the first to show me what learning passionately meant. I was expected to complete my required work but she also encouraged me to pursue interests, create unique products and share my ideas with others… perhaps a type of Genius Hour.
I also had the driving force of Coach Crab in American History in Junior High who shared his passion for History in such a way I fell in love with the real life stories of the past and how those past events impacted the world I presently experienced.
However, the greatest reason I became a teacher came down to one person, Mrs. Akins, my high school yearbook teacher. After many years of singing in choir in both Junior High and High School, I was not feeling the dedication to the program I once did. I personally had seen students who stayed in that had felt like me and it was painful for them and those that were still very dedicated. I didn’t want to stick it out just because that is what I had been doing. So I applied to be part of the yearbook staff my Senior year. It was an unprecedented move. Normally you were supposed to take the journalism class as a Sophomore. Even so, I was accepted and began my Senior year as part of the Yearbook Staff. Who knew that what seemed such an insignificant decision would save me in so many ways.
Mrs. Akins cared about all of us. She was always with us, encouraging us, editing our work, showing us how to say something controversial without creating a scandal. She knew us and though she never asked me directly she knew what was on the surface wasn’t what was really going on in my life. We published an incredible yearbook that year… it was all based on choice… students even got to pick what color they wanted for the cover (I still have both choices on my bookshelf at home). I laugh now as I see how even then my teaching philosophy was forming even when I was a student. She taught us about choices… not that there are right choices and wrong choices, but choices that lead in different directions. She taught us that choices can be made for us or we can make them, but all choices are a learning opportunity. She helped me see that even though I had been in place where many choices were made for me, I was about to step out and make choices of my own. More importantly though, she believed that I would make choices that would make a difference in not only my own life but in the lives of others. She believed I had a very important purpose and she helped me believe it too.
Mrs. Akins related well with High School students. I soon found I had an uncanny ability to relate to middle school students. I have taught at all levels, but I find I feel most at home in the midst of a conversation with a group of students ranging in age from twelve to fourteen.
Before you put me in a box, though, let me make it clear, I absolutely love all students. I find nothing more fulfilling than seeing the light in a student’s eyes, no matter the age, when what they have learned ignites a drive to learn more. I want to be the educator that inspires teachers, builds relationships and is a catalyst for change. Not change on a global, national or even local level, but change for each student. Everyone can have choices made for them, or choose for themselves. I want to empower every individual. Empower them to believe they have a profound purpose. Empower them to make choices for themselves. Empower them to believe in the possibility they offer to the world. Empower through relationships so that we do change to world for the better.
I want to empower those around me to believe they are MORE than… just like Mrs. Mayes, Mr. Crabb and, most of all, Mrs. Akins did for me.
Why do you do what you do? How do you empower others to be MORE than?