This past December my wife and I faced the most difficult challenge of our lives. We were very fortunate to become parents to a set of beautiful twin girls, but their time spent with us was limited to only a brief moment. In that moment, despite the outpouring of love and support from friends and family, I struggled to focus on anything but the pain we were experiencing.
At the beginning of the second semester the last thing on my mind were my students. I was too wrapped up in my own needs. A colleague helped pull me out of my funk.
The day after my twins passed away I received an email congratulating me for being named the KCTE High School Teacher of the Year. I suspected that I had been nominated by a member of my professional community, Amanda Klare.
While the timing of the notification may have been a coincidence, Amanda looking out for me was anything but. A teacher with Beechwood Independent Schools, Amanda constantly seeks to affirm the positive qualities of fellow educators regardless of what district they are in. Receiving this award reminded me that my job means so much to so many people. Hurting as I may have been, I resolved to make the following semester the greatest I could possibly have.
Being in a community means that we always look out for each other. As educators, we partake in a ton of different communities. Our communal objective generally revolves around strategies to meet the needs of students. While this should obviously always be our in goal with anything we do, our communities are most effective when we look out for each other as human beings first, and teachers second.
Joe Beard, the former principal at Ludlow High School and the man who hired me, exemplifies a professional who put people first. I had known Mr. Beard from my days as a high school student as he had been my assistant principal. When I came back looking for a teaching job, and Mr. Beard, who had become the principal, ultimately offered me a job, I had only one question to ask him, “are you only hiring me because you have known me for so long?” His reply was perfect, especially if you had the pleasure to know him. He said “Chris, because I know you and I really do like you, it is going to suck if you aren’t good at this and I have to fire you, so that is probably a strike against you.” In Joe’s own way he was telling me that he cared about the person first and the teacher second.
It is easy for our school year to get frantic. Every year, teachers have more and more responsibilities thrust upon them and very rarely have anything taken away. Knowing that I had an advocate like Joe made the years I worked for him a time of tremendous growth. I knew I could take risks and push out of my comfort zone. I became a better teacher and have been able to get much more out of my students as a result.
As educators, we often focus on the relationships we wish to build with our students. We recognize that if we are able to make connections with individuals, and bring them together as part of a community, that their learning outcomes will grow.
What we often ignore is the need to build relationships and community with each other. Sure, strategy sessions reviewing new teaching techniques are valuable. And I love having my online learning community that I can bounce ideas off of. These resources are tremendous for working with my students on a daily basis.
But empowering each other, building our colleagues up and helping them become the best educators they can be is what makes a truly effective professional learning community. This can only happen when we recognize and value each other as human beings first and teachers second.
As we approach a new school year, you have a tremendous opportunity. You can simply focus on your class and all of the great new strategies you learned this summer. Your kids will benefit because you were committed to becoming a better teacher. Or you can actively work to build and strengthen your community. With this, an untold number of students will benefit as your commitment to others has made them all better people and teachers.
Photo via AEE, CC-Licensed.
Chris Wright is an English teacher at Ludlow High School in Northern Kentucky. He was recently recognized by the Kentucky Council of Teachers of English and Language Arts (KCTE) as the High School Teacher of the Year.