Let’s be clear; being an educator is hard work. It is a profession driven and fueled by passion. It demands the very best people, and the very best from those people. It requires change that reflects the changes all around us. It requires consistency borne out of doing the right thing for the right outcomes. But mostly, it requires listening and responding to the needs of students.
It seems obvious but is worth stating again. We all have employment as educators because parents are sending us their kids—all of their kids, not just the easy-to-reach, easy-to-teach ones. Schools exist as learning centers for children, not employment centers for adults. The beauty of this statement is that if we get the first part right, the second part becomes our wonderful opportunity to hire more brilliant adults to work with those students! My daughter has begun her teaching career and our discussions center on this really important idea—student learning. She knows it is not enough that she teaches an outstanding lesson. She is focused on making sure every student learns the lesson. The shift from student as spectator (teacher as the guru on the mountain top) in the learning process to student as participant (teacher as the Sherpa) in the learning process is evident in hers and many others’ classrooms today.
It’s important that we keep as our primary focus that every day, in every class, in every school, the future appears before us. Those smiling faces (and even the blank ones or sullen ones) represent all of the future holders of every job and profession in each of our communities. The one thing we do not have control over is their birthdays. They will get a year older each year. Let’s recognize this and arm each one of them with the most skills, so they can make the best transition to the next phase. What then, can we do for those kids who struggle – the kids who take up most of our time but seem to generate little success? These are the kids who periodically cross our minds when we think if I didn’t have them in my class, I could offer the others so much more and could yield better results. But here’s the catch – I just don’t know with any certainty which of those kids can be turned around because an adult invested in them. I do know this: Left unchecked and in the absence of any intervention by caring and compassionate adults, I can easily predict the options available to those kids. And so can you.
Perhaps the sense of urgency wasn’t as profound in previous times, and society on the whole was able to absorb low graduation rates with significant employment in manufacturing and agricultural sectors. The new urgency, brought on by changes in those two sectors alone, compels us to go further, do more, and push through our frustrations to minimize that of our students and set them on a path to making a less bumpy transition to work or further training.
I’m sure most readers are familiar with the story of the starfish on the beach. While we may not be able to save them all, start with one. It would be so easy if they were clearly labeled. In the absence of that, begin with the first one you see, whether it’s starfish on the beach or kids in your school. The final page from the book I Am the Future accurately summarizes what we need to keep in mind as we help students to learn and grow:
I am reminded of this truism in education – Being an educator is hard work – it’s also heart work. Thanks for all you do to connect the head and heart.
“I Am the Future” by Tom and David Hierck with illustrations by Selina Mitchell available for $10 by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.