Recently, I was invited to speak to a group of high school students that are in The Future Teachers Club led by a wonderful model teacher. As I write this, I am still captivated by the idea that there are high school students who know they want to be the teachers of tomorrow. They are choosing to become woven into the fabric of the most gratifying profession I can think of. I can say with conviction, that when I was their age, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to be because I was still discovering who I was supposed to be. After sharing my own educational journey, I posed the following question to the future teachers who sat before me: When you think back to your fondest memories in school, what experiences do you remember the most? Some of the responses I heard from this group of aspiring teachers included sentiments such as:
I remember my teachers asking me how I was feeling today and really meant it. They made an effort to connect with me.
I remember my 5th-grade teacher going above and beyond to plan fun and exciting lessons for my class because she cared that we had fun while we learned.
My 6th-grade teacher was so funny, but she was also kind. I remember wondering about what Ms. Smith would say as I joyfully skipped to her class. On any given day I could count on her to make me laugh, a welcomed experience, especially on the days I felt stressed and needed it the most.
I can tell you what I didn’t hear these aspiring teachers say. I didn’t hear them recall any specific details of a particular lesson their teachers planned and executed. I didn’t hear about a particular standard that was being addressed or about a rubric that was used to help students work towards mastery of a particular skill. I didn’t hear about them feeling a sense of accomplishment for doing well on an assessment. Does that diminish the importance of those elements? Of course not. They are essential tools to guide students to reach their social, emotional, and intellectual potential. The theme that resonated most was that their teachers made intentional efforts to connect with the human beings they are and helped shape and influence who they want to be.
As I sat and intently listened to students share their fondest memories, I couldn’t help but think of the teachers and experiences in school that meant the most to me. When you take a journey back in time, can you still see and hear the people who believed in your gifts and unleashed the teacher and leader inside you? I can. My story starts at a young age. When I close my eyes, I can still see myself sitting at my desk in my 4th-grade classroom. I don’t remember other classrooms as vividly as I remember this one. I can clearly see my teacher, Mrs. Roth, greeting me at the door, wearing a genuine smile of hope, and offering sincere nods of encouragement. I can feel her positive spirit permeating through my malleable heart. When you are a young learner, you are more impressionable. So, when you are lucky enough to have teachers with high emotional intelligence, they can be more responsive and less reactive to your needs. There were times I could feel myself losing the confidence I needed when learning new things or doing hard things. Regardless of how I felt, Mrs. Roth showed me appreciation for the person I had the potential to become and the future teacher I didn’t know I was going to be. For example, I was a struggling reader, who lacked the stamina to persevere through a reading or writing task. When Mrs. Roth saw my head meeting my desk, I heard, “Lauren, you can do this. You’re a reader. Lauren, yes, you can do this. You’re a writer.” When I was charged with the privilege of reading aloud to younger students to instill a love of reading while improving my own reading abilities, I would hear, “Lauren, yes, you can do this. Those little ones look up to you. You’re a role model. You’re a teacher and a leader.”
In her captivating blog post titled, Kind, Empathetic, Generous, my dear friend Meghan Lawson recounts an impactful encounter with a paraprofessional who exuded profound appreciation for her students. Meghan beautifully highlights the acts of kindness displayed, particularly towards those students in need of compassion. “I left with a mission to make school a place where we nurture kindness, empathy, and generosity. Our students and staff deserve it.” After reading this post I wondered about the profound influence that the observed individual might have had on her students, inspiring them to emulate such compassionate acts for others in the years to come.
So I ask, what intentional experiences are you fostering in your classrooms and schools to inspire your students to become the torchbearers of the next generation of teachers?
You are shaped by the mosaic of people you’ve learned from, each contributing their unique piece to the tapestry of your personal and professional growth. As you embark on your own journey towards inspiring others to become remarkable educators, it’s crucial to remember the profound influence you can have on your future students. The power lies not only in the knowledge you impart but also in the care, enthusiasm, and genuine connections you forge. The memories you create will become an indelible part of their educational experience, shaping their lives and helping them choose to want to be the teachers of tomorrow their future students need.