Leaving Your Mark

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Eye fingerprint

“If they never remember your name… would you still teach? Would you still strive to create dynamic, engaging, student-centered learning experiences in your classroom? Would you still go out of your way to find your student in the cafeteria to give him a pat on the back for his improved behavior and insightful inquiry during class that day?”

“If they never give you credit…Would you still seek to connect with, encourage and rejuvenate your colleagues and peers?”

“If they never really respect your title or position…Would you still sit down with a frustrated new teacher to help them get through their first year?…”

The last couple of weeks, these questions have risen to the forefront of my mind, swirling around and around as I ruminate on dual roles as both teacher and instructional coach in the coming school year. The answer to these internal inquiries is a definite Yes. However, the reason behind the Yes is best given by a friend of mine who recently tweeted “Your gifts and talents are as unique as your fingerprints. Leave your mark.” That’s it, I thought! That perfectly explains the Why behind the Yes. It’s about imparting a legacy of life on to other lives. It’s about bestowing your impression, your likeness, a piece of who you are on the world so that it becomes woven into our collective history. We were designed for this. We were made to extend our reach, to touch a hand, to move a heart, to shape a mind…to uplift a soul.

I had the chance to visit the Sistine Chapel during my high school chorus trip and our tour through Italy. It was my first plane flight and a trip I’ll never forget. Books, encyclopedias, the history channel could never have prepared me for what I saw with my own eyes looking up at the ceiling and Michelangelo’s magnificent masterpiece.

Your Touch is Timeless...

Your Touch is Timeless

In every brushstroke, in every shadow, in every contrast of color, in every defined detail, the chapel is littered with the artists’ fingerprints. Every crevice cries out, “I have a gift for you! Look around. I’ve left something just for you. Take it in…all of it. Let it inspire you, shape you, stir you, and remind you to leave your mark so it can keep going. Share the best that you have, the best of you. Be the ceiling someone needs to look up to and see with their own eyes.”

I am so struck by this notion, even as I write. I am called to do many things: be a wife, a mother, a witness, a friend. I am also called to share who I am with others outside of my circle of comfort. It may be gladly received and reciprocated, and it may not.

It is said that Michelangelo did not want to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. He was more of a sculptor than a painter, and at the time desired to finish Pope Julius II’s marble tomb (which is ironically quite unknown). He dedicated four years of his life in an awkward, contorted standing position to paint what we travel many miles to admire and revere.  As teachers and educators, our task  is often to plow under harsh conditions…to prepare and sow into the young, be it intellectually, socially, psychologically, emotionally or otherwise. While we do our work with expectancy, we are aware that the crops yielded from our toil–as it seems at times–may not be easily visibly overnight (or many nights). And still… We take another step. We awaken the next day and do it again. We are a precious and unique breed of people.

We see potential in our students…masterpieces in the making. We spur them on to higher heights and unconquered territories, for at the core of every true teacher, we believe our students can achieve more than what they know. We press them to “go the distance”.  We show them by our at-the-door greeting, through our firm but fair classroom rules, through our relentless assessing and re-assessing of each and every student, and by our continual care that each voice is to be heard and respected. We repeat over and over again:  “You are worth so much! You have so much to give…so much to share.” However, we often only see our students without really seeing and appreciating what lies below the surface of ourselves: our gifts, our skills, our talented DNA designed to be inherited by those within our grasp. We sometimes brush these aside, preferring to remain quiet and content in our comfortable cloaks that fit us just right.

This is not a “toot my own horn” teacher talk. No. Teachers shape the teachers and thinkers of tomorrow. Our task can be daunting. Periodic discouragement will come. An attitude of learning and humility are prerequisites of the job description. But I challenge you to listen and absorb the words of hope and inspiration you daily give to the ceiling-watchers in your care. Leave your mark. Imprint the hallways, walkways, desks and chairs with the essence of what made you choose and be drawn to such a noble calling in the first place. Mark up the conferences, lecture halls, meeting rooms and seminars with your wisdom, creativity, techniques, passion and skills.

Share your insight.

Invent new ideas.

Interact with new friends.

Enhance the community.

Solve problems.

Sing.     Write.     Dance.     Draw.     Laugh.    Grow.    Run.    Mold.    Learn.   Read.   Teach.

Fingerprint light

Whatever you do, Leave Your Mark.

 

 

 

 

(Thanks to Val Brown for giving me the why behind my answer unbeknownst to her.)

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Shifting Gears for Middle School Teaching

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I was a high school teacher before I taught middle school, so my slant has always been to prepare students for college, for the “real world”. I emphasized study skills, responsibility and accountability, somehow hoping to inspire and ignite that innate thirst for knowledge and learning that each person has. However, regardless of how passionate I was teaching about science, or life lessons, I often felt as though I was spinning my wheels in quicksand, digging myself deeper and deeper, quicker and quicker into the abyss of futile fervor of giving knowledge and information to the generations behind me. Why aren’t they as excited and passionate about learning as I am? Why do I care more about their grade than they do? Why don’t they study? I don’t get these kids? Don’t they know how important their education is? Question after question, and still no answer. Only frustration. And that was while teaching high school.

 

The transition to middle school was an eye-opener. As I think back on that first year, I had no idea the differences between the two different secondary levels was so vast. I felt as though I might as well be teaching elementary students. That is how big the gap felt. It’s not as though middle school students are babies or inherently childish; but there’s a lot going on in these semi-children, semi- adolescent-wanna-be-adult individuals. They are a science fair project in and of themselves!

 

It did not take me long to figure out teaching these preteens would be more challenging, as it were, than rocket science. So we, the brave, the bold, –the “crazy”– middle school teachers face a dilemma: “How do we teach the required information to students whose development is in such transition and hormonal change and activity?

 

The “old school way “: Teacher lectures, students write, students learn, teacher tests, students may or may not  “make the grade”. Teacher feels helpless. Teacher appears incompetent. Teacher questions her call, desire and ability to teach.

 

Somewhere within that first middle school year for me, the shift began. The shift in the education field, as well as, at our school. Our principal Dr. Howell began challenging us to get the students working in groups in the classroom. Meet them where they are and guide them upward toward the standard, and they’ll “get it”. Incorporate more hands-on, less lecture. More student-centered, less teacher-centered. Bit by bit, the ideas came. Buddying with other teachers on this venture improved the outlook more and more. I shared a little, they shared a little and the pot of knowledge grew exponentially. Challenge the kids more. Have them come up with a lesson to teach their peers or demonstrate to the class. Become a facilitator for learning, not a disseminator of information.

 

See my earlier frustration is one many teachers feel. I’m working so hard and they still aren’t getting it! Could it maybe be that we’re working so hard that they feel they don’t have to? We are trekking to a destination on the map we chose. We’re making the route. We’re walking in the dust, sleet, heat and snow, making the trail, pointing out landmarks along the way, sweating, freezing, laboring, suffering…when all the while, the students– the focus of our venture– are riding on our backs for free! Their clothes are spotless, their shoes unsoiled, their bodies are fresh and relaxed, and their minds are uninspired, unchallenged and unmoved.

 

Our egos as teachers are always on the line… but more so within ourselves. We have degrees, we have knowledge in our content area. We have the skills, the know-how. We want notoriety for what we know and what we do. These are normal human desires, but when they inhibit the whole reason why we’re doing what we’re doing, we need to hold them in check, re-focus and re-direct  our knowledge, skills, and know-how in a more useful, practical and positive way so that real, deep, sustaining, anticipatory, “on the edge of their seat” kind of learning can occur.

 

 

Me Teach Middle School? Never!… No Way??!

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I can’t believe I am entering my seventh year of teaching middle school students. See…I never wanted to teach middle school. To be honest, I never wanted to be a teacher. Post-college, living back at home, no job, no money, no boyfriend or husband-to-be on the horizon made the “never” become “(Sigh) If I have to”.

 

I vaguely remember my first middle school subbing experience. What I do remember is stepping onto the rickety wood-splintered stairs leading from the portable thinking, ” I will never teach or sub in a middle school again!” These kids were all over the place. Talking, throwing pencils, asking me tons of questions… Ugh! Never, ever, EVER!!!

 

What I didn’t know was that I was a magician. But the magic word for me wasn’t abracadabra; it was never. It worked like a charm, but I hadn’t quite mastered its power yet, because I kept using it incorrectly. It was like a moth to a flame: “never teach”, ” Me? A middle school teacher?”… “Never!”  

 

Fast forward about twelve years…

Me: “When some of you become a teacher you’ll understand…”

One of my students: “I’ll never be a teacher. I could never put up with the students like us if I were a teacher.”

Me: “Never say ‘Never’. “

Student: “No, I never will, Mrs.McCurdy…You’ll see.”

On that note, I walk back to my desk, disengaging from this debate with a knowing smile on my face. There it is again…that magic word, a future teacher in the making!