I can clearly remember standing in the middle of a classroom in the fall of 1997, four days before the school year was about to start. I had just been hired as a third grade teacher, I had turned 22 days before, and I was staring at a giant bare wall.
After a moment of panic, my vision cleared. I knew I needed to make the room bright and welcoming, and representative of each member of our class community. But I didn’t need to put up posters of my ideas. My students would splatter it with their creativity, imagination, interests and efforts. And, after a short time, those walls, from ceiling to floor, burst forth with the spirit of my students.
Just like the walls, that’s how I focused the school year. It was all about the kids. Every day began and ended with a high five, handshake or hug. I cared about each child’s strengths, and the areas in which I needed to provide extra love and support. Our morning meetings were filled with connection, laughter and understanding. We played impromptu “Freeze” and “20 Questions” first thing in the morning. These meetings were a way to build relationships and confidence. My students got to know one another, I got to know each of them, and they got to know me.
They learned my pet peeves. They learned what made me laugh or smile or cry. My students knew when it was time to be loud and cheerful and when it was time to be calm and quiet. I listened to them. I got down on their level. I ate lunch with them, pushed them on the swings, sledded down the hill with them in the winter and cheered them on during performances.
I tried as much as possible to remember what it is like to be an eight or nine year old. I knew that making a car with a motor speed across the room was the coolest way to learn about simple machines and electricity. I knew, at that age, that having your mom or dad come volunteer in class was a highlight of the day. I recognized that getting in an argument with your best friend over sharing a swing was a really big deal. I knew that getting the newest Beanie Baby was awesome, and that listening to a Backstreet Boys song during lunch put (almost) everyone in a good mood. I knew that an extra recess was like winning 1000 bucks.
I loved being a teacher. I was proud to be a teacher. I also experienced that teaching is not easy. That every day there are challenges and obstacles and risks that need to be taken. And even though there is love and connection and celebrations, there are also tears and questioning and frustration.
And now, as principal of Hillel Day School, I have the opportunity to observe teachers “do their thing.” I marvel at their efforts and applaud the risks they take. I watch their relationships with the students come alive and observe them collaborating with their colleagues. I hear our teachers build students’ confidence and self-worth and teach them to accept others’ differences. I watch teachers build an understanding of concepts, an understanding of others and an understanding of the difference young minds can make in the world. I observe teachers constructing a safe classroom community where the students learn to problem solve, to collaborate and to think critically. I appreciate that they help build friendships that last a lifetime and that they build curious minds, kind hearts and helpful hands.
I appreciate that our teachers help build our future.
Teaching is a beautiful profession and I appreciate the time and dedication that is exemplified by our faculty.
Thank you, teachers, today, on National Teacher Appreciation Day, and every day.