Never take for granted that you may be the only person who makes a student feel loved and accepted on any given day.
Nick was the student who was skeptical from day one. Sitting in the front row, he seemed to wait for the opportunity to push. But I did not lose my cool. Even when he downright challenged me, he was really asking “can you love me now”? While we may take for granted that each child, whether 7 or 17, enters the classroom feeling affirmed and cared for, this is simply not true. As teachers, we have a unique opportunity to use our profession to teach humanity. Even when it seems difficult, if not downright impossible, we must continue to love and to express our unconditional acceptance of those who may seem the least open to this concept. By the end of the year, Nick realized that I wasn’t going to dismiss him when he pushed my buttons. I was going to remain steadfast and love him more…smile still. I would not lash out at him like others in his life. When I had the opportunity to visit the White House as 2012 Maine Teacher of the Year, Nick visited me just before I left. He said, completely serious- “Tell the President I said hi”. And then he did what I thought was impossible- he gave ME a teary hug. Love and be accepting, even when it’s tough. It matters.
People First; Things Second
My former high school principal had a sign in his office - People First; Things Second. At 17, I did not truly comprehend this significance of this message. As a teacher, I understand that students, parents, and colleagues need to have their human-ness affirmed. There is no agenda, no initiative or lesson or exam that will make the same impact as how I treat someone as a human being. While there are those who might say “you have to focus on the product…the thing,” I maintain that the things without the people are hollow. We must remember that while there is great importance in tasks and in product, it is the person you pass in the hall, the parent you comfort, the student you inspire who needs you most. Make people your priority.
The discomfort that comes when facing adversity is a sign we are growing.
As humans, our instinct is to avoid what makes us uncomfortable…what pains us. Yet, what I have learned about discomfort is that it is often a sign I am growing as a person. When I face adversity, when I work through the mire and muck of life, I learn more than when I soar. Use the obstacles, the times that make you question as opportunities for reflection. Trust that you are good enough and strong enough and then embrace the notion that what scares us, what makes us think and doubt and squirm…..is a lesson waiting for us to unearth. Dig in.
Teaching students to find and use their voice is perhaps more important than ever before.
In a world where our students are being bombarded with media messages –explicit and implicit – it is critical that we teach them to question, analyze and develop their voices. To give students the power to feel that their points of view matters is a gift that will pay itself forward. We must teach the skills of thinking, writing and speaking – in all subject areas – so that our students can figure out how they feel and then articulate their point of view. Whether Transcendentalism in today’s world or bioethics, our students have much to think about. It is our charge that we give them the tools to enter the conversation of the world…in the world.
Flip the coin.
Jeffery Wilhelm said, “We cannot understand until we understand the viewpoint that we do not endorse.” This is so true. Teaching our students to eliminate bias and to practice empathy is essential. There is no textbook lesson that can accurately underscore the importance of cultivating kinder, more thoughtful and critical thinking young citizens. Teach tolerance. Ask students to consider the other side of the coin. Encourage them to see an issue, a controversy, or a person from an alternative point of view. To overlook the opportunity we have to make this change and to model humanity is to sacrifice a great gift.
The views expressed on this site are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pearson Foundation.
Alana Margeson has been teaching English Language Arts for thirteen years in Caribou, Maine. A 1994 graduate of Caribou High School, Alana feels especially fortunate to work with some of the same “greats” who inspired her to become a teacher. She received a Bachelor’s of Science in Elementary Education and Secondary Education, English from the University of Maine at Presque Isle. In 1999, Alana earned a Master’s degree in Education Administration from Saint Joseph’s College of Maine. Alana currently teaches grades 10 and 11 English as well as AP English Language and Composition at Caribou High School, and writes professionally for Dr. Janet Allen’s Plugged Into Reading and Plugged Into Non-Fiction. In addition to the tremendous honor of being selected as the 2012 Maine Teacher of the Year, Alana also received the 2012 University of Maine at Presque Isle Distinguished Alumni Award. She and her husband Erich own a family farm in Aroostook County, located in northern Maine. They have four sons, big brother Noah and triplets Evan, Reid and Nicholas.