Teacherscribe’s Teaching Tip #181
Here is my final personal statement from my WEM admission form –
Describe yourself as a teacher, part 2. Who and what are you as a teacher?
While I value my why, how, and what greatly, there are two other beliefs that drive everything I do in my classroom. Several years ago, I helped our leadership team devise our school’s core values. My two contributions were “It’s not about us” and “Our work matters.”
“It’s not about us” is the most important because I work at it every single day. I am no sage on the stage as I was when I first began teaching 19 years ago. I wanted to impress the students with all of my knowledge, just as my college professors had done. I learned high school students were not impressed by that. At all.
In the years since, I’ve realized that teaching really is not about teachers; it’s all about students. Moreover, being a successful teacher is about creating the optimal climate for students to discover their talents that may be buried very, very deep. In fact, the talents may be buried so deeply that the students may not even realize they have any talents at all. Therefore, it is vital to develop a supportive, engaging, and empowering classroom culture optimal for students to be the best versions of themselves. This is where my second favorite core belief comes into effect: Our work matters. And it matters. Every. Single. Day.
Last fall I was teaching my annual Tuesday night Introductory to Education course at the UND. The class featured three of my former students who were now majoring in education. One student, Ciera, was not completely sure about her direction, but she took a chance and enrolled in my Intro to Education class. During her junior year in high school, I saw her passion for children and her aptitude for creativity, so I encouraged her to think about being an elementary school teacher. By the time I had Ciera at UND, it was the third time she’d switched her major. This particular evening, I invited another former student of mine, Ms. Twistol, who also happened to be my daughter’s first grade teacher, to come in and speak to the class. As students left for the evening, I saw Ciera eagerly talking with Ms. Twistol.
The next morning I received a call from Ciera’s mother. “Mr. Reynolds,” she said. “Ciera called us crying last night.” Uh-oh. That is never good, I thought. “We thought something was wrong until she said, ‘Now I finally know what I want to be! I want to be a teacher!’” My purpose as a teacher was renewed: Ciera found her element.
“It is not about us” and “Our work matters” extend beyond the classroom. I also coach freshmen football. I had a player, Sam, who was injured and couldn’t play. He wanted to quit, but I encourage him to stick it out. I told Sam he could be my assistant offensive coordinator, a position invented just for him. I even gave him his own clipboard and let him add to our playbook. I just wanted Sam to be involved.
Late in the season, we were practicing with only 14 players. As we huddled to run a play, I had an idea. “Sam,” I said, “walk over to the sideline and stand there. You’ll be lined up at wide receiver and run a post.” Sam looked confused as he clung to his clipboard. “Just do it. The defense will never think to cover you. It’ll be an easy touchdown.” The players in the huddle encouraged him.
Sam was wide open for a touchdown. The team laughed and doggy-piled him in the endzone.
I went about the rest of fall quarter teaching and coaching and forgot all about the moment. It wasn’t until parent/teacher conferences that I was reminded of it. Sam’s older brother was in my College Comp class, so it was no surprise to see his parents signed up for conferences. It was a surprise, though, that all they wanted to talk about was Sam, specifically the moment from practice when he scored a touchdown.
“That play,” Sam’s mom said, “made Sam’s whole year. He still talks about it.”
That moment had nothing to do with me. It had everything to do with encouraging and supporting a young man at a critical time in his life. Our work isn’t just in the classroom. It is on the practice field, the court, and even in the digital landscape.
I strive to be a role model not just in the classroom or on the field but also on social media. I want students to see how awesome it is to be an adult. I want students to see the amazing benefits of curiosity, passion, and life-long learning. If students Google me (or my username, “teacherscribe”), follow me on social media, read my blog, or visit my classroom website, they will see someone who has found the perfect integration of work and life. They will see how much I love being an adult, a father, a husband, an active community member, a life-long learner, and, of course, a teacher.
Students can even see this when they leave for the day when they drive by my car parked just across the street from my room, for the bumper sticker, proudly displayed in the middle of my trunk, reads, “I’d Rather be Teaching.” Some people would rather be fishing, hunting, or golfing, but there really is nothing I’d rather do than teach. That is why I exist.