Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Passing the torch

Yesterday I was asked to speak at our monthly faculty meeting to recruit more veteran teachers i.e...the "old crusty ones like me" to participate in summer mentor training and reduce the workload on our current mentors.  Instead of a one to one ratio, each of us have 3-4 people that we meet with weekly, conduct informal observations, and basically serve a a sounding board.   Basically I was tasked to sell a program that provides no monetary compensation for the time invested in additional paperwork. I have become stealth with how I have fit this into my day/week. Meetings take place walking to lunchroom/outside duty or as a weekly Google doc to share challenges/solutions between those I mentor as the concerns are often similar.

So, what angle did I take to sell what otherwise is a non appetizing program?  This one:

When in Kenya we were asked before the village who had gathered to greet us to introduce ourselves.  I went through the cursory name, age, marital status, number of kids but it was when I said, "I teach secondary school" that the crowd began clapping and standing in my honor.  I stopped talking, and looked over at TJ, our leader and he said, "different response, right" and smiled. Needless to say I was humbled at their sheer appreciation of what I do for a bulk of my waking hours.    I went on to talk about how encouragement is the reason that many of us are veteran teachers and that passing the torch and being an encouragement to the new teachers has never been more important.  I briefly talked about how I fit what is no more than an additional hour or two each week with the payoff as immense.

When I came home in addition to making changes in being more intentional in relationships, I wanted for ways to look to be an encouragement, especially at work.  Yes, I will be the first person to tell you I am a realist and can also point out the challenges which are never ending in a school bureaucracy. At work I am also person who will leave my coworkers notes on your desk or candy in your mailbox  I greet my students with humor and a genuine interest in how they are doing. Just try to be a complainy, surly teenager when I am hurling candy at you for right answers in class from my infamous ginormous candy bag (i.e all the candy I have taken out of my house from various holidays.)  I have worked hard not to let the negative chatter at work be something I become mired down into believing is total truth in the profession. I often times stick in my earbuds when in the workroom, even if there is not a sound coming through to block being sucked into conversation.

Over the last months, for the beginning teachers that I mentor and my student teacher, I left them chocolate spelling out "FRIDAY" on their desks, made them Easter baskets filled with candy and also notes on all the ways they had made a difference in the lives of their students. I have left little arrangements of flowers and a count down calendar for spring break.  I tried to model for them that relationships, not only with them, but also the professional ones they make with their students/families will help them weather the difficult days.

When my student teacher left about a week ago I put together a first year survival basket including:
  • A ream of bright copier paper (because who doesn't smile at lime green paper as well at paper being a common out of pocket expense for teachers)
  • Tissues (for their tears or more likely hers)
  • Go with everything scarf (for days that you are running late or stayed up way too late likely grading)
  • Sparkly bag for all your pens and pencils (my student teacher loved anything hot pink or with glitter.. hello 20 year olds)
  • Starbucks gift card (self explanatory)
  • Yummy smelling bath products (for nights to say screw grading and take a bath instead)
  • a DYI cocktail kit (when all the above items fail)

When I say that working with my student teacher as well as the beginning teachers this past year has made me look at this profession differently, know that I say I regret saying no all the other years I've been asked to serve as a supervising teacher or mentor.  Not to say that I wouldn't have had someone as wonderful as my student teacher and the beginning teachers I've worked with this year.  All have been professional, having solid work ethics, and the ability to be flexible.  Early in our time together we realized that my student teacher's program director didn't want her teaching my multiple sections of semester long AP Gov't classes. She instead she traded off an equally difficult situation to teach my one lone US history as well as cobbling two other teacher's courses, traveling all over the building teaching three different subjects.

In additional to learning balancing time management on crack, she also got a 101 in how to break up a fistfight, deal with students who sprinted out of class past her onto the football field, and more parent contacts/meetings that she once commented she ever expected.  Through it all I could not have asked for anyone better and I hope whatever school hires her recognizes the gem they have in their midst.  The real deal in the making, she is.

I come back to what makes a difference and it was my own mentor, Marty Broda, that back in 2000 showed me kindness, honesty when I needed to hear it, and the ability to let me fail and learn along with celebrating success.  I am still in this profession much due to her believing in me and the Universe letting my pairing with her happen.

Encouragement and kindness are about finding the smallest of ways to meet someone where they are and finding ways to leave them better than you found them.  

This is teacher appreciation week, even if you are less than thrilled with your teacher placement for this year,please consider a note of encouragement over any tangible gift you can gift.  It will be appreciated.


LauraC said...

Love love love this post Heather. LOVE IT. You have definitely inspired me to write a much longer note to the boys' teachers on Friday (our school does an entire week of appreciation with different sections of the school hit every day).

Kate said...

Heather this too is my favorite post from you. It says so much about you as a teacher. You are an inspiration to your co-workers. I am so glad I had the opportunity to work near you and learn from you. When days are tough please go back and read your post on why you continue in this profession. It is very inspirational! Blessings always my friend! Miss you!