Monday, May 1, 2017

Speak Up

In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, this piece from May 1, 2013:

Soapbox Wednesday

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 teacher.

If these are things you care about, speak up.

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.

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