Wednesday, December 28, 2016

"You Are a Super-Hero!" (Special Guest Post)

Hello, colleague.  I hope you, like me, sometimes come across a reading that stops you in your tracks. I was surprised, wowed, pleased . . . you name it, by this energetic, empathetic, and encouraging essay I came across in our Michigan Education Association magazine, Voice (December 2016). It's by Bill Triolet, teacher and union local president at South Redford district, a stone's throw from my hometown of Farmington. I contacted Bill about posting his words here and within a couple of hours he responded most positively and then sent me his essay, "For Days You're Feeling Low."

As we are at a de facto mid-point of the school year, and at the start of a new calendar year, these words reach us with very good timing. With no further ado, here's Bill in his own write, © 2016, all rights retained by the author. Enjoy!

This year will be starting my 20th year teaching in South Redford, and my 10th year as a [union] local president. I would be lying if I said there weren’t times when I was frustrated, disenchanted, or just plain depressed over the direction public education moves, how the government treats us, or my inability to reach a student.  I can’t help but wonder sometimes, “Why am I doing this?”

But then something always brings me back to the most important reason I come back year after year - really the only reason that matters:

The kids.

Recently a student I had back in 2007 sent me an email.  In it he recounted some fond memories he had of my classroom, then concluded with this:

“A thought I had some time ago was me being content where I am in life, about to graduate with a degree in Mechanical Engineering from University of Detroit and then go back for my master’s, a stable job and offered salary directly out of college . . . many things to be content about. The memory I have of you is showing me the importance of diction and vocabulary by your insatiable love for reading.

My point is that without all the influences that guided me into my current state, I would probably be somewhere else entirely. So I am thanking you and hope this can be a message of encouragement for you to continue teaching and leaving an impressionable mark on someone’s life.

Thank you.”

And so I was reminded why I do this — why we all do this challenging, frustrating, sometimes thankless, and often low-paying job — for the kids .  And I wanted to remind you of — and thank you for — all the things you do for our kids. Because it is important to take a deep breath and remember all that you will accomplish over the course of this year. You will work tirelessly to give our students every opportunity to improve their lives through education.  

You will give your all to provide quality instruction to students who:

love school, hate school, are male, are female, are LGBT, are physically disabled, are gifted, are learning disabled, are average, are black, are white, are Asian, are Hispanic, are middle-eastern, are multi-cultural, are abused, are well-to-do, are poor, are hungry, are neglected, are raised in traditional families, are from broken families, are from foster families, are raised in single-parent homes, are raised by grand-parents, are ESL, are emotionally impaired, are hormonal, are sleepy, are moody, are medicated, are in need of medication, are self-medicated, are bored, are inconsistent, are depressed, are suicidal, are on parole, are comical, are cutters, are loud, are painfully shy, are polite, are rude, are know-it-alls, are underdogs, are confident, are insecure, are street-wise, are naïve, are passive, are aggressive, are passive-aggressive, are impulsive, are angry, are violent, are guided by faith, are not guided at all, are jocks, are nerds, are rockers, are skaters, are Goths, are practically invisible, are self-confident, are looking to find themselves, are lost. . . .  

Each day you will strive to meet the needs of students who:

have traveled the country over the summer, have never left the city in their lifetime, have grown up in our system, have just arrived in our system, have a visual learning style, have an auditory learning style, have a kinesthetic learning style, have no learning style . . . have been read to their whole lives, have never been read to before, are reading much above grade level, are reading at grade level, are reading below grade level, cannot read, love your subject, hate your subject, have attention deficit, hang on your every word, defy you, adore you, surpass every challenge given them, refuse to live up to their potential, seek help when needed, refuse help when offered, go home at night and do their homework, go home at night and play video games, go home at night and parent younger siblings, go home at night to addict parents, have no home to go to.

And, as if this weren’t tough enough, we are required to navigate directives from the district and the state to utilize the most current strategies and prove student growth through a plethora of organizational, strategic planning, and evaluative measures such as:

Understanding By Design, The Baldrige Criteria, the MEAP, The new MEAP, the SAT, the PSAT, the ACT, the M-STEP, Quarterly Assessments, Summative Assessments, Formative Assessments, Child Studies, The Danielson Framework, SRI, Dibbles, CLASS A, DNA, 6+1, Power Writing, Writing Across the Curriculum, Open Court, CER, T4, Next Generations Science standards, Common Core, GLICKIES, HISSIES, HUSKIES, Diagnostic Reading Assessments, SMI, SRI, PRIMM, Marzano, MLPP, DSM4, 5, 6 and 7, Schmoker, COWS, Woodcock Johnson (Ding), STAR Reading Tests, Accelerated Reader, Accelerated Math, STAR Math Tests, QRI’s, I –Ready, Manifestations, and MI-Access.

Hell, you aren’t teachers, you are freaking super heroes!!

You are superheroes because you accept the responsibility to not only educate all of these students with all their differing needs and abilities, but also to be mindful of their social, emotional and physical well-being . . . and year after year – and some of us decade after decade — you rise to the occasion.  

So I say to you, do not feel you have failed because you were not able to reach that one student. Know that the flame is not extinguished when they leave your classroom.  The torch is simply passed to the next amazing teacher, and in the case of a student who leaves your district having not risen to their own potential, be satisfied that you have done your best to plant within them the embers from which they may one day draw upon to light the flame themselves. So when you are brought down this year, as you inevitably will be, by an unkind word from a thoughtless parent, a child who you feel you cannot reach despite your best efforts, or yet another politician spouting why public education is the root of all the nation’s woes, I want you to remember all that you do for so many, and so varied young people and be proud of what you are: You are an MEA member and a Public School Educator:  Your business is changing lives.

Have a terrific and fulfilling year, everyone!

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