After my fourth graders won an award for their environmental action project, I gave a speech of gratitude to them in honor of their work. They worked hard and accomplished a big goal, received recognition from our local zoo, and an article in the local newspaper. As I spoke to them, I got teary-eyed, I laughed, I joked, and I gave them the credit they one hundred percent deserved for a year-long watershed rehabilitation project they initiated and implemented. It’s one of those moments all educators dream about, when their students’ accomplishments are recognized and you are overwhelmed with pride for them. It was incredibly special. Many of my colleagues tried to give me credit for the achievement and every time I replied, “The scientists did it, I was just there for the ride.” It’s true, the credit and accolades belonged to them, not me. In my speech to my scientists, I told them about that, I told them they deserved all of this positive attention and how proud I was of their work.
After I finished speaking, one of my scientists stood up and said,
“We wouldn’t have done it without you, though.”
I know my scientists recognized my confusion because they started yelling out follow up statements…
“We wouldn’t have known about the watershed”
“We would have given up”
“We wouldn’t have known we could make a difference”
“We wouldn’t know where to even start”
Although I still do not feel I deserve any of the credit, it did make me think.
What doors are we opening for students by being their teacher?
What is the advantage of you being their teacher? (That’s a modification of a quote from Principal Kafele)
What opportunities are you providing for them, what are they able to do, what would they NOT have done without YOU in their lives?
When I plan experiences (no, not lesson plans or activities, rather authentic experiences) for my scientists (no, not students), I think of one simple question — How would I want to learn THAT?
The way I teach is not in any way reflective of how I was taught, especially science and history. No, what motivated me to become a teacher was that I wanted education to be different. I wanted classrooms to be different. I wanted relationships between students and teachers to be different. I recognized the brokenness and disconnection very early although I would not be able to articulate it for years to come.
I had a third grade teacher tell me based on one day, one test, that I was not and never would be good at math. She followed this up by telling me I would also never be good at science. Fast forward 32 years from that moment when I was 8…I think we can all agree that simply isn’t true…
How many opportunities did I miss out on in my life because of that arbitrary day, that arbitrary assessment, that one teacher?
A lot, is the simple answer.
That was just the beginning of my “school should be different” quest though. It would be about 10 years before I realized I should be in education — at that particular moment, I just knew school was no longer fun and I was not good at it. I carried those thoughts for a long time. The math and science bit — I held onto that for at least 20 years from that moment. This is worth a whole blog post on its own.
We, as educators, have to dig deep, especially when the stress hits us — whether it’s testing season, holiday season, personal or family stress….whatever it is, we have to dig deep and think about the opportunities we ARE providing our students, the opportunities we want to provide our students, the opportunities our students deserve to experience…
You’re constantly building up for the moment when your students are going to say to you, “We wouldn’t have done it without you.”
You matter. Every day, every experience, every encounter inside and outside of academics, you matter, you ARE the difference. Make the time you DO have with your students the best it possibly can be. Make your presence the difference between holding a student back from what they were meant to do in life and letting them take off, to rocket into their passion and take those first steps into the person they were meant to be.
Open up doors for your Changemakers (that means every one of your students).
They deserve it, and the world will never know the amazing things of which your changemakers are capable without you by their side.
Be the difference, the positive difference, the reason a student discovers their passion, not the reason they will later say that they missed out on their passion, or delayed pursuing their passion…