Last week I had the opportunity to sit on the interview committee for the area Teacher of the Year. We interviewed 11 secondary teachers, chosen by their peers as Teacher of the Year at their own schools, seeking to identify one to represent us all. We asked them a fixed set of questions about their daily lives in the classroom—data and differentiation, included—but the thing that became clear, from the first interview all the way through to the last, is not that numbers matter, but that people matter.
The light at the end of the testing tunnel is becoming brighter, but we still have a long way to go, holding ourselves and our students accountable to those who think they know what’s best. And that’s hard at this time of year. I read a story about how tough October and November are for new teachers; I think they’re tough months for all of us. The cheery thoughts of a brand new year with infinite possibilities have worn off and we’re settling in for the long haul with the kids and the classes we’ve got.
In the meantime, we need to remember what really counts—the people our students are and who they are going to become. They are our Why? Every one of those 11 candidates knew this—they told stories of individual students who had made a difference in their lives and vice versa. When we asked them to tell us about one student, a few knew that student right away, but most could not narrow the field to just one. Almost all told about the letters and emails they received from former students upon whom they had unknowingly made a significant impact.
I have a six-year-old daughter. I am very conscientious to watch what I say and how I behave—especially in stressful situations—around her. My husband knows that look—the one where my raised eyebrows and big eyes say, “to be continued after bedtime,” while I smile and change the subject with my gentle words and reassuring gestures.
We need to do the same thing at school. The day after the interview committee—back at school—I found myself getting caught up in office politics, feeling frustrated with paperwork, meetings, and other demands that felt a lot like disrespect. I caught myself complaining out loud. I know my sarcastic “off to another meeting” comment might not seem like a big deal to the four students who were sitting nearby; however, the negativity was clear. Whether or not they care where I’m going, they heard my attitude, and then, if they hear another complaint from their fifth period teacher about testing, and see two other teachers scowling as they whisper in the halls between classes—they’re going to start to think we don’t want to be at school, that we don’t care about them.
I know we care—those 11 Teachers of the Year represented hundreds of teachers who selected them because they care so much; however, I think we could ask those same ten questions of almost any teacher and get similar responses. We’re in this for the kids. We need to put on our happy faces and let the kids see how much we like them, how much we believe in them, and how we are here to help them become the best they can be. We can save the sarcasm, the negativity, and the tears for after school.
That’s my goal this week—no complaints! I’m going to make an extra effort to greet kids with smiles and encourage my colleagues to focus on the positive. We’ve got a solid month and a half until Christmas break; it’s going to be stressful both in and out of school. We can be strong. And positive. We have to be…for the kids!