Hello, my friends. It has been an insanely long time since I have written anything for this blog. 2017 has been a year of new adventures. I began a new job with a high school in my district acting as an Instructional Technology Coach, Webmaster, Social Media Manager, as well as wearing a variety of other hats as needed. It is quite literally a new challenge every day. July began my twelfth year as an educator, and lately I have been reflecting on the way my career has developed.
When I started teaching in Fall 2006, I worked in a Title I high school. I taught AP U.S. Government and Politics and World History. There are moments from that year that I am certain will remain burned into my memory for the rest of my life, both positives and negatives. The following year, I was asked by my department chair to go with her to Kennesaw State University and talk to the newest class of student teachers about the lessons I had learned as a first-year teacher. I was nervous, but I agreed. In that talk, I tried to include honest and serious lessons as well as the more humorous ones. Overall, the presentation went well, and I left feeling as though I had contributed something to the next group of student teachers.
Earlier this week, that presentation came to mind, and I began to wonder what lessons I would offer as a twelfth-year teacher. I think one of the biggest things I can offer at this point in my career is that I am not entirely sure anymore that I have any lessons to offer, and I must admit to a little amusement that I truly thought any lessons were possible at that early point. Instead I will offer, dear readers, what I do have, which are my own reflections on the progression of my career, the experiences I value most, and the things I wish I hadn’t spent so much time and worry over.
Credit to Hyperbole and a Half for the original image and
ImgFlip for the ability to create a meme from it.
Throughout my career, I have made it my mission to learn everything I can to help my students succeed… and realistically, because I have always loved to learn. I have two Advanced Placement certifications, a Masters, a Specialist, an ESOL certification, a Gifted certification, and a Teacher Support Coaching certification. I was recently recognized as an MIEE by Microsoft. I enjoy learning, and I love a challenge. During the last several years I spent as a classroom teacher, I volunteered to serve as the general education teacher for a ridiculously high number of IEPs. I found that by helping with those, I was better able to understand my own students and myself. As many of my former students could attest, I have ADHD, so in some IEPs, I actually learned strategies to help keep myself on task. I am an AP Reader for AP U.S. Government and Politics, and I also serve as an AP Advocate. In fact, I count my AP reading friends among my favorite parts of my Professional Learning Community. Every year, I enjoy being able to “nerd out” over Government discussions and make entertaining Government memes. They are a genuinely amazing and gifted group of people (shout out to Michelle Ashmore, Karen Benevelli, Heather Chase, Jonathan Laird, Jen Lopez, Steve Moran, Ashley Rush, and Sonny Urrunaga).
When I evaluate my drive to learn all the things, here is my big takeaway: I love learning. I am planning on working on my Ed.D. as soon as January 2018. However, the biggest gifts I have received from the degrees, certificates, etc., are the connections I have made with other educators around my district, state, and now even around the world. An amazing friend and colleague, Kenya Ransey, says on a regular basis that “We are all better together.” I know this to be true. When we put aside the need that is driven into us by society to be all things to all people and the best of the best, there is so much room for growth. The most genuinely innovative concepts and ideas come when people work together. I encourage all of you to find a Professional Learning Community and share with them, engage with them, and learn from them.
Now for the things I wish I had not spent so much time and worry over… These are more complicated. I think we could all agree that every teacher worth her salt earnestly wants to make an impact on her students. Please don’t misunderstand me – wanting to make an impact is NOT a waste of time. Beating yourself up because there are kids who are not ready or able to be reached IS. We absolutely cannot control what kids walk in our classroom doors. Some of them come from loving and supportive homes. Some of them who come from those homes are still damaged. Some of them come from devastation that we cannot even imagine. Our job consists of loving and teaching the kids who come in the door. What is difficult though is trying so hard every day and seeing in a child’s eyes that they are not connecting with you and then blaming yourself. Imagine with me for a moment the worst time of your life. Were there moments where you couldn’t even garner the strength to accept the help offered to you? I know I have been there. Sometimes our kids are there too, but trust me when I say that you are making an impact. Keep loving them, keep believing in them, and keep trying to reach them… Oh, and teach them that content so they can pass the standardized tests too. 😊
Colleagues can be hard too. I know that when I decided to be a teacher I honestly thought it would be kind of a nirvana situation where everyone loved kids and learning and was there for the right reasons. Yep, I can be a bit naïve. The reality is that teaching – like ALL professions – is filled with people. There are good people and bad people. And the ones who do not truly believe in the value of what they are doing can be the ones who tear you down the most. It is imperative that as you journey through this adventure, you stay focused on why you are there. At the end of the day, it is all about those kids.
Last week, I was a bit discouraged. I think we all get like that. I happened to have a meeting with someone from a district office. When I scheduled the meeting, I thought the name was familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it. That meeting turned out to be with a man that began teaching at my first school the same year as I did. We reminisced about some of those early experiences. He and his wife both began that year. Back then, the school would pile all of us newbies into a school bus and take us on a tour of our district. The desired outcome was, of course, to give us a glimpse into the life our students lived before we met them. That bus ride changed the trajectory of my career for the better because it served as a reminder every day that my kids were just people, like me, and were dealing with things that could impact how they behaved, felt, and experienced my class. That bus ride gave me more compassion and patience for ALL of the students I have met throughout my career.
So there you have it – if you’ve stuck with me through this incredibly LONG entry, thanks. I appreciate all of you. Be encouraged – I’m on year twelve, and some days I still feel kind of clueless. We all do. I have heard that’s normal.
I would love to hear from you if you have thoughts on any of this. Please feel free to comment or reach me on Twitter at leahkurtz2012.