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What I Know About Teachers (And Wish Everyone Else Knew as Well)

May 02, 2022

In the first school I was a teacher at, every single teacher I collaborated with and worked alongside of had an impact on me. I would observe their classes or talk to their students and was often left in wonder by their skill and brilliance. Their passion motivated me, their expertise taught me, and their endurance for the difficult work of teaching inspired me to become a better teacher.

I was convinced that I was surrounded by extraordinary teachers, a rare and talented group of professionals who were unlike most.

And of course they were extraordinary, but then I moved to a different school and began my work with a different teaching staff. Here I was equally blown away by the talented and creative people I got to work with. Their work was centered around a single purpose: help their students achieve success. Everything these teachers did worked towards that purpose. I learned even more from them about what it means to lead a classroom.

Because of their commitment, creativity, and work ethic, surely this must be the greatest group of teachers in the world.

Here's the secret about most teachers.

In the past few months, I’ve had the amazing opportunity to get to present to and meet with teachers from Virginia, to Canada, to South Carolina, to New York, to Florida, to Michigan- and every time I when I got home I'd tell my wife, “This was probably the greatest group of teachers I’ve ever been around.”

And I really do mean it each time. Because when I travel to schools and conferences and get to be around teachers, I hear stories about how they entered the lives of their students and helped them grow and transform. I get introduced to new ideas and practices that I’ve never seen before that I know will change the way I teach.

The other day I witnessed a second grade teacher yell out "Flat tire!" to a room packed with fifty 8-year-olds. Immediately, fifty 8-year-olds made the shushing noise of a leaking tire and then the room went silent. The command this teacher has left me in awe.

What so many teachers are doing:

The teachers I meet don’t shy away from innovation and growth; they embrace it and are eager to help shift the education paradigm. However, these teachers are also quick to point out that new ideas and innovations cannot replace building relationships and the timeless, universal practices of being a teacher. These teachers are having their classes enter their communities to make real impact and change. I meet teacher after teacher who loves the work they do and cannot imagine doing anything else.

There are many great teachers.

Which all brings me to this conclusion: there are a lot of great teachers out there.

It’s true, our schools contain many creative, hardworking, skilled professionals who are doing amazing work. From the school I visited next to a cornfield in Iowa to the school next to a highway in Detroit, Michigan, there are teachers who are doing incredible work to change the lives of their students, and as a byproduct, bettering our society.

And this brings me immense hope. In our world that seems to be so divided and splintered, where the future can seem a bit bleak, there are professionals dedicating their lives to invest in young people to ensure they become knowledgeable, skilled, empathetic, and confident citizens.

Our society needs to do better at recognizing our teachers.

My hope is that this society can do a better job of realizing the kind of professionals that are working in our schools. I hope politicians can wake up to the brilliance that is happening in schools and direct the resources and training to make sure these professionals are supported, funded, and multiplied.

I hope the people who spout off on social media can realize that supporting educators is a much more productive way to help our kids than shaming and attacking.

I think this support starts by requiring any type of decision-maker in our society to regularly visit schools. They need to meet these teachers I get to meet. They need to see what over-crowded classrooms look like. They need to meet Anne, the teacher I met in South Carolina who quit her job as a marketing executive so that she could teach ESL students. They need to meet Sheri, who could have retired years ago, but 49 years in the classroom was just not enough to satisfy her love of teaching students how to read and write, and so now she is in her fiftieth year.

They need to meet the new teachers in our society who are bringing a freshness and vitality to the profession, and are helping lead the major shifts that are happening in a post-covid landscape.

Legislators should talk to my former student Sarah and hear how she is the first person in her family to ever graduate high school, and hear how she credits this to her teachers.

These decision-makers need see what every teacher already knows, that the work of a teacher is important. And difficult. And frustrating. And time consuming. And skilled. And rewarding.

And beautiful.

Then they should act accordingly.

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