There are essentially two reasons why I teach. They are at the core of everything I do:
1. To foster a capacity for enjoyment, and
2. To provide a supportive environment for meaningful risk-taking
I have been teaching music and movement to special needs preschoolers
for ten years. Before that I taught preschool and kindergarten in a
small independent school in Baltimore. Whether I have been charged to
develop fine motor skills for handwriting, literacy skills, or to
support IEP goals, these two reasons run through everything I have done.
Why? Well, because these are the two things I find most essential to
life. What is life if we cannot enjoy it? How will we learn or grow if
we cannot take risks? The joy and pride I feel in a room full of
students as a lesson takes flight is immeasurable. A student who has
never participated makes a first imitative movement. Another finally
makes eye contact, or smiles. Progress with my students can be very slow
but each step is sweet. I feel grateful to be there.
Whenever I see things that stand in the way of enjoyment and
risk-taking, I mourn. These days there are plenty: high-stakes testing
and the environment it creates for students and teachers; school
schedules that wreck teenagers' sleep cycles; bullying that strips
enjoyment from life and decimates the bravery to take positive risks;
hunger and homelessness.
Every time I see a teacher create a learning environment that respects
these essential needs, I rejoice. But the odds are against them. Those
are not the things they are being "graded on." Don't believe me? Ask a
If these are things you care about, speak up. There was a sizable
turnout for a meeting on the HCPSS Health and Wellness Policy recently.
Those voices made a powerful statement. You can make a statement, too.
Teacher Appreciation Week is coming up. Are there teachers who support
students by honoring both their enjoyment and risk-taking? Write them a
note. Let them know how they have made a difference for your child.
My AP American History Teacher was that person for me. His contribution
to the person, and teacher, I have become was so great that I made the
trek to Connecticut with my husband and daughter when I heard that he
was retiring. Thanks, Mr. Atwood. Your work lives on in me.
And in my students.