Friday, December 23, 2016

Why I Teach: Year 9

With each passing year, my craft as a teacher has evolved. I am grateful for years of practice and gained wisdom, new knowledge and experience from which to draw inspiration. As I approach nearly a decade of teaching, I have reached a place where I am comfortable. I am able to have fun in the classroom - to go into a room knowing that no matter what may transpire, I will be able to adapt, react, and create a meaningful experience for my students. Still, with this level of comfort there is still much to learn, and certainly, reflection is essential to maintaining my creativity, my ability to understand my current students need, and also helps to fuel the passion and fervor that I hope to apply to my teaching every day of my career.

At the start of this holiday break, I signed my speech team up for an additional tournament. One of the teams that we have a close relationship with decided in the last month to host an additional tournament, and of course, I knew I had to be in attendance to run the competition. As a result, I emailed parents fully knowing that it was the beginning of the holiday break. In the email, I explained how this could be an additional experience for students who were able to have fun with friends, practice one last time before the more rigorous part of the season begins in January, and reiterated the understanding that family events and the holidays are far more important than any speech competition (except perhaps State). The reaction and level of attendance that was able to attend this tournament was absolutely impressive. Families altered plans so that their students could compete. Students who were not able to attend expressed disappointment for the missed opportunity. And while we only ended up with about 60% of our team, the students were still able to take home a third place trophy and had a blast with their friends sharing their messages with fellow competitors and judges.

Behind the scenes, I felt a little frantic trying to ensure logistically the tournament ran smoothly (I hit 16,000 steps on my FitBit - I was running. Literally). With several schools already on holiday break, attendance was lower in some regards. Also, inclement weather prevented a few schools from making the tournament, which meant a change in judging pool and alterations of the schedule. I was fortunate enough, however, to have several of my former students serving as my assistant coach, judges, and spectators. While the posting of finals became a challenge, what I discovered that afternoon not only touched me immensely but also reminded me why I teach.

My assistant and former student, Elise, spent the day asking what she could do to help. We had an additional judge and so I kept her close by to help with final round posters. This particular tournament was running a next-in final, meaning 28 posters would need to be written in approximately 30 minutes time. She accepted the task and spent most of the day prepping for one fast-paced afternoon. As my other former students finished judging, unbeknownst to me, they made their way to the room in which Elise was writing the posters and began helping without prompting, without need, and without question. They noticed that Elise could use extra hands and started to work. When I walked into the room where Elise was writing to check to make sure she was okay, I found six smiling faces busily writing, taping, and organizing. These six individuals were working together, completing a task they had never done before and were having fun accomplishing a common goal. Without their assistance, the tournament would have been delayed. Together, they took on a challenge, had time to catch up with one another, and seemed to genuinely have fun.

While this moment might be small and seem insignificant, I will sincerely treasure this moment for years to come. Watching my students grow up, find meaning and success, and make positive contributions to this world is one of the greatest gifts I could receive. Seeing these young people collaborate, complete a task, manage their time, and sincerely enjoy hard work reiterated to me what the most valuable life lessons are. Of course, grammar, analyzing a challenging text, and being able to write an organized paper bears importance in the educational process, being able to problem solve. But being willing to work hard, and collaborating with others are critical life skills that will serve them in any avenue they will pursue. While I love reading, public speaking, and writing these first few hours of "break" reminded me the reason why I teach. Being a small part of a young person's development and journey to becoming a happy, productive, and positive participant in this world is truly a gift. Being able to witness it first hand six times over this past weekend is priceless.

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