I’ve been a classroom teacher for a long time now and am grateful to be in a school that supports and values my way of teaching. It makes me very happy to spend my days with children who are talented, creative, and eager to learn. It also makes me very happy to work with a cohort of talented and committed colleagues, veterans like me as well as those relatively new to the profession. And it is the latter I worry about when I read yet another diatribe against our profession on how we educators are failing America one way or another. Will these newer to the profession, in this time of tests and standards and accountability, still be creative teachers? Will they be able to ignore the calls for simplistic and limited teaching?
Yes. Yes, they can.
I think today of a young woman who came to my school five years ago as an associate teacher, working in five fourth grade classrooms. She made her mark immediately, embracing every aspect of her position. Grammar? Deadly, right? Not with this teacher who thought hard about it and came up with creative and innovative lessons. During recess she was eagle-eyed, paying particularly close attention to the most vulnerable students. And when a head teaching position opened up, there was absolutely no question that she would be the one to fill it.
Over the next four years this young teacher, while being a remarkable teacher for her own students, also brought so much to the fourth grade curriculum in general. For our study of forced immigration she developed a unit on the Gullah who have been shown to be directly linked to the people of Sierra Leone. At her suggestion and with the school’s financial support she and another teacher went to the Gullah’s annual Heritage Days celebrations. And she didn’t stop with that, but kept thinking and considering the way we taught immigration through the year. At our meetings and informally she spoke about her ideas, ways of adjusting and tightening our overall social studies curriculum. Thanks to her it is now clearer and tighter. Connecting to language arts to the immigration theme she developed an intriguing journey assignment which she presented at the 2009 NCTE convention. Additionally, she considered and added immeasurably to other aspects of our language arts curriculum and our math as well.
Moving beyond the fourth grade this extraordinary young teacher embraced other opportunities at the school — chaperoning high school students on trips for foreign language and service learning, taking on the high school cheerleaders and making them a force to be reckoned with, and heading up the 4-6 math department among much more. Recently she received a Spirit Award from our parent association for all that she did for the school community.
And now she is — this bright light in education — moving on. Happily getting married this summer she is relocating and will be joining the staff of another school –fortunately one that also encourages creative and innovative teaching, one that does not ascribe to the harsh rhetoric of the times. We at my school will miss her terribly and envy her new colleagues and students who will be the recipients of her thoughtfulness, creativity, and joyful approach to learning. Still I’m gratified to know that this superb young educator will continue to prove the pundits and naysayers wrong — with her America’s children will be in good hands for years to come.
Thank you, Ms. Lesley Younge (on the left with the poet Elizabeth Alexander and myself).
Also at the Huffington Post.