Think back to a moment that influenced your decision to become a teacher. I know my very very first moment- it was in 2nd grade- in Mrs. Satriani’s classroom (whose son is the famous guitarist, Joe). I cannot remember one thing about the Iowa tests we took that year except for the name. Yet, I remember so much about that classroom, the moments of that year, and the remarkable educator, Mrs. Satriani.
From the get go, early in the school year, she wanted us to know who she was, and through this, she communicated with us what she thought was important. She brought in pictures of her at the March on Washington DC in the 60s, shared with us memories of her meeting with Martin Luther King Jr. and frequently told us stories of that day and the days that followed.
She taught me about other famous women educators like Mary McLeod Bethune who, to my surprise, strikingly resembled many aunties in my own family. This image of an African American woman educator was a shock to me as I had never seen such images before in my suburban Long Island school. And, by the way, I wouldn’t see images of African Americans in school again until way into high school. To my surprise, Mary lived during slavery and became a teacher and one of the first female presidents of an American College. I was so intrigued and inspired by her story, as was my teacher and fellow classmates.
I’m quite sure this wasn’t from the 2nd grade reader or curriculum, but I remember the day Mrs. Satriani handed me my very first poetry book. And it was written by Phyllis Wheatley, a poet whose work I still admire.
And get this- She didn’t only do this for me. She did these things for all the students in our class community.
She sent me post cards over the summers.
She knew my family, even my then baby brother.
She made it a point to stay in touch, invite me back, even when I left the school and headed off to middle school.
She didn’t only do this for me. She did it for all the students in our class community. She did it for our community. And she did it for who were to become in our world.
She saw the intricacies of me- as if under a microscope. But Mrs. Satriani also saw the enormity of me- with a wide lens. Mrs. Satriani had a vision for who I was then and who I was to be.
I was such a quiet kid back then, but she knew me. Like really knew me- the way a mom or close elder knows you. She took the time to dig deeper – much deeper than I would initially allow. She also wanted to reach me. This had a lifelong effect on me. As a mother, teacher and leader, I am who I am today because of Mrs. Satriani.
Let’s think about Ms. Satriani and what she did that was replicable. She …
Inspired…shared her personal courageous experiences
Ignited…She knew her content and was passionate about it igniting a spark–poetry and history.
Built confidence…gave Monique that poetry book and in essence said, “here you go, now be a poet—I know you have it in you.”
Respected all…this wasn’t a teacher who only believed in one child in the classroom…she believed in ALL of them. No favorites. I teach ALL kids. I honor and respect ALL kids in my presence.
Connected in deep personal ways…She knew Monique’s family, her traditions, her rituals.
Supported independence…gave her a poetry book and let Monique understand poetry her way.
Encouraged risk taking…she knew Monique well enough to help her feel safe. She was shy, yet came out of her shell a bit because Mrs. Satriani loved her no matter what. Monique could fail and still be loved, still pushed and challenged.
All of this is what makes a teacher great. A test score can make a teacher good but a teacher will never be great without all of the above. We look at evaluating teachers through Danielson or Marzano, yet most of these principles are not evident on these evaluations. We all know the great teachers when we see them and we say, “they were born to be a teacher.” Be careful. I believe all of these things, these abstract, less tangible things, are achievable. Let’s be on the lookout for them. Let’s take this week to honor our teachers. Our good teachers can be great, and our great teachers can become greater. Let’s highlight their greatness.
A few weeks ago, I did a Twitter marathon highlighting amazing educators for 30 days. It was a wonderful experience. Most of what I tweeted about were those principles Monique talks about above. For thirty days, I tweeted an educator a day shouting out (in 140 characters or less) all they do for kids and education. You could do that too this week. For one week, you could tweet, highlighting your teachers. This would help you and your teachers get on Twitter (which is important because it is FREE professional development.) It also helps you see education outside of your classroom and school. If you’re not comfortable with that, you might try some other things to highlight your teachers:
- You might create a bulletin board with a catchy title. Teachers Matter/What Really Matters in Teaching/Celebrate Teachers/Teaching Our Heart Out/Teaching From the Heart
And then display pictures of teachers interacting with kids
- You might take that same bulletin board and create an in-house twitter account. So fun and could get teachers to join Twitter. All you do is create tweets (basically a sentence with abbreviated words to highlight a teacher).
Example: a 3rd gr teacher I know, Maura, inspires her kids everyday w signs that show she believes in them!
- You might give kids a secret “on demand prompt” writing about their teacher. It might go something like:
Teachers make all the difference in the world. Think about your teacher. What has she done to make a difference in your life? Now write an essay explaining why your teacher has made a difference in your like.
You might have the kids decorate them and then give them to their teacher at the end of the week.
I received this a few years ago from one of my former kids, and I keep it displayed to remind myself why I do what I do. All teachers need to remember that they really do make a difference.
- You might invite kids to talk about their teacher each morning on the announcements. Maybe help them find a quote that exemplifies their teacher’s character, and then give a quick explanation with it. It might take two weeks to go through the staff, but what a beautiful gift to give.
- You might ask your principal if there is money to purchase a book of the month. Then buy the teachers Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson, and tie it in with the culture they have built in their classroom.
Whatever way you choose, remember to celebrate and shout out the visionary educators you know.
Let the teacher appreciation begin, actually!
Monique & Christy