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Literacy

Dear Teachers at the Start of the School Year

September 7, 2023

by: Lester Laminack

6 mins

 

 

The new school year is here. If you are brand new to teaching, bravo. If you are a teacher returning this fall, thank you. Just thank you. We are experiencing the largest exodus of teachers from our profession in the history of our profession, as far as I can tell.

There are lots of reasons for that, and most of us who work in education understand. We know why they're leaving. We've seen the changes in curriculum. We've seen legislation that restricts them. We've seen teachers fired for choosing to read the “wrong" book. I can only imagine the stress level every day, and to those who have decided to stay, who believe that their presence makes a difference in the life of a child and enhances the lives of a family, or this culture, or this country, I just say thank you.

Thank you for being there, and thank you for being the people who are willing to stick this out. How can we help? I think there are long-understood and deeply rooted notions regarding what makes the most difference in any classroom. It's not some chart on the wall, or some kit in a box, or some fancy curriculum guide. It's the human being who is there. It’s YOU. Understand the power you have there. In all things you do, be kind. Be human; be responsive. Respect the child. Let nothing you do take away any child's dignity as a human being, compromise their integrity as a learner, or cause them to question their ability to succeed, even when they fail at something. If that occurs, you have failed.

There is such pressure to raise test scores. Let’s instead focus on raising humans. You know, if you don't raise their test scores, I'm less concerned than if you destroy their identity, their integrity, or their confidence. Raising something at the cost of the other is immoral. And so when you’re stressed, when all else fails, ask yourself, what would Fred do?

Fred Rogers is my educational hero. In Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, he was always focused on what children need. He did not make decisions, at least not apparently, based on commercial gain or financial advancement. He made decisions based on what would be good for children. Always.

Fred Rogers understood the power of structures and routines, of consistency, of being calm and peaceful in the presence of a child, not losing your cool, and always remaining the adult—being a leader rather than being reactive. I think that's important to young children. 

To young teachers, be patient with yourself. Give yourself space to be wrong. I know that you learned a lot in college, and you're full of energy, focus, and creativity. First of all, let no one down the hall strip you of that. Secondly, make friends with everybody. You need all the support you can rally, especially your school secretary, your custodian, and the lunchroom workers. 

You need those people on your side because they make a school run. Also, find a mentor in the building. Find some time, at least once or twice a week, to journal your thoughts. So when days are really, really super good, write pages, and then, when days are really, really bad, read those good pages.

Remind yourself this is tough, but good days have happened, and let's look at what happened. What was different? You won't have the answer every day, all day. You just won't. You're a human being. Being reflective will help you fine-tune your practice.

To the seasoned teachers, I would say, bless you for staying this long.

Find yourself one of those young people who invigorates you and gets you refocused, and be their mentor. Help them realize why you have stayed because the world is telling them every day at every turn, get out, get out. Now, why do you want to be a teacher? Help them realize why you have stayed this long. Help them see what makes this work worth it.

This is my 46th year of being in education. I'm not in a classroom now, but I started teaching in 1977, and some form of education or another is all I've ever done. I think my identity is wrapped up in being an educator.  I'm hoping that those seasoned people feel that it is part of the fiber of their being and that their existence is a model.

For those young people who think, “Wow, I want to be him. I want to be her. I want to be the teacher that kids come to.” When you watch a seasoned veteran, one of those super teachers in a classroom, it is absolute art. They are the people who can make it look like magic.

They can make it look effortless and make us ask, how do you make that work? Our young teachers need to hang out with them and realize that magic doesn't happen overnight. That comes with a lot of work.  A lot of reading, a lot of understanding, and insight to the point that it becomes second nature to you, but it is always, always work.

With enormous gratitude,

 

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