2014 marks my 14th year in education. Had I been teaching the same subject/grade level through this tenure, you might expect that I could have become well-versed in a subject or grade level. However, in those 14 years, I’ve taught kindergarten, 4th grade, 3rd/4th multiage, middle school alternative classes, 8th grade science, 7th grade science, and spent 4 years in a middle school library. I wonder if I might not be a true example of being a “jack of all trades but master of none.”
While I have not spent extended years studying one subject or grade level, I have spent 14 years “in the company of children” (a reference to Joanne Hindley’s book of the same title). From them, I have learned a lot. Many of the important lessons about and from the children I have taught fall under the headings of faith, hope, and love.
Faith: Some of our students come to school with little faith in anything. They have not developed faith in themselves or their own abilities, and they have had little opportunity to have affirmed any faith placed in anyone outside themselves. As teachers, we have to help these students develop faith in themselves and faith in us. We may be the first “constant” that they have known. We are tasked with being worthy of their faith, and working hard to earn it. That means that we follow through on our promises–never promising more than we can deliver, and always delivering what we promise (or even more than we promised). We must also help students develop faith in themselves as we scaffold instruction so that they realize their own success. This success can be used to breed further success. We can become that teacher that Dr. Rita Pierson referenced in her TED talk when she quoted a student who said, “You made me feel like I was somebody when I knew, at the bottom, I wasn’t.”
Hope: Hope is that idea that the future can be better than the present. It can be achieved when we (or our students) have a sense of empowerment. Sometimes, students come to school with a very narrow view of the world, shaped mostly by poverty. It is our duty as teachers to expose them to aspects of the world that show them the power they have over their future, helping them to realize that they are not destined for any particular future other than the one that they desire and work toward. Once we help students build this vision of their future selves, we can give them the tools to make those visions become reality.
Love: In college, I had a professor who gave us some advice: “You must love your students and make sure that they know they are loved.” It is only inside of this–when children feel loved–that they can begin to achieve. Providing this loving environment is not easy–it’s work. It requires getting up each day without “remembering” the troubles of yesterday–giving each student a new chance every day. It requires going out of your way to learn about each of your students and to support them in their extracurricular activities. Marva Collins taught us that our children deserve our best selves. They only get our best selves when they feel loved, valued, and empowered in our classroom. This year, let’s make a conscious effort to foster faith, hope, and love in our classrooms.