Ah, September – the opening days of a new school year! Perhaps the most idealistic time of year for professional educators. We promise ourselves that this will be the year that our best laid plans will not go awry. We’ll have spent the summer reflecting on the past school year, deciding ways to adjust our teaching based on those articles we finally had a chance to read, those conversations we had, those courses we’ve taken, those workshops we’ve attended.
This year we’ll figure out a way to distinguish between those two students who look enough alike to be identical twins; we’ll learn how to pronounce and spell the names of each boy and girl and we’ll contact each of their the families during the first month of school; and we’ll have the bulletin boards up before the first open house or parents’ night! After all, we’ve had a whole summer to plan and prepare for this new school year. But alas, the inevitable occurs. We’ve been moved to a new classroom, building or school site and no one can locate the box with our favorite books or bulletin board decorations. We expected to have classes of 30-35 but 40-50 students show up instead. Our favorite co-worker has moved to another building or state, or has retired and we don’t know yet who will be our sounding board and listening ear. How do we keep up our enthusiasm for one more year!
Before athletes, dancers, actors, or singers go out to perform, they usually go through a warm-up regimen and hear a pep talk from their coaches or directors. By the time you read this president’s perspective you probably will have heard the back-to-school pep talk from your administrators and department leaders. You’ll have learned the results of your school’s testing, been reminded of the budget cuts and their impact on your programs, and once again you’ll have been challenged to improve the English/language arts skills and scores across the board. So, you may need to take a few moments to warm-up and start again. I’d like to share with you a mental exercise I do myself at the beginning of each school year. It can be repeated as needed. I take a couple of days to remind myself of reasons I became a teacher and reasons why teaching is such an honorable profession. Permit me to share and comment on some of my favorite quotations about teaching.
Teaching is an adventure – for me and for my students. I’ve taught middle school for a number of years and found this quotation by Franklin P. Jones one that keeps me humbly smiling. “Children are unpredictable. You never know what they’re going to catch you in next.” I know that I are not infallible and have learned that my students certainly are not reluctant to point out my mistakes and imperfections. I remind myself that it is from them that I often learn the most. A passage from the Talmud says, “ Much have I learned from my teachers, more from my colleagues, but most from my students.” We teachers claim to be life-long learners. What better place to achieve this goal than in the classroom!
Teaching is an awesome profession – “To teach is to touch lives forever.” (Anonymous) “ A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”(Henry Adams) and “I touch the future. I teach.” (Christa McAuliffe) We who teach the English/language arts probably have the most demanding of responsibilities because we teach the only subject every student is required to take for each year of his or her first twelve years of schooling! It is for this reason that a professional organization such as CATE is so vital and why I encourage each of you to communicate and celebrate what we have to offer. John F. Kennedy reminded us “Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education.” What an awesome responsibility.
Teaching has a lifelong impact. – It is through the local and state CATE conferences, workshops, and journals that I learn how to do my job more effectively and efficiently. I am reminded of what Clay P. Bedford has stated so succinctly,”You can teach a student a lesson for a day; but if you can teach him to learn by creating curiosity, he will continue the learning process as long as he lives.” When I hear our keynote speakers, authors and workshop leaders present ways to tap the prior knowledge of our students, to incorporate a variety of strategies for reaching a wider range of students, to develop more efficient approaches to class management, test preparation, or assessment, or grading, I believe I can gain that level competence and confidence that mark the more successful and satisfied professionals. Inevitably some article will have just the idea I need to adjust or adapt my instruction to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge that Albert Einstein says is the supreme art of the teacher.
Dear colleagues, I know this mental and emotional warm-up works! From 1967 when I taught my first class of eighth graders in St. Louis, Missouri to the year with the ninth and tenth grade students in speech and debate classes as well as the college bound seniors in La Jolla, California, I hav looked forward each school year to experiencing the adventure and awe of teaching English/language arts. I’ve learned the truth of Ray L. Wilbur’s comment “The potential possibilities of any child are the most intriguing and stimulating in all creation.” Even after moving to Western Michigan and teaching adults in the college setting, the adventure continued to be true for me.
Thankfully, you and I have NCTE to provide opportunities for us learn ways to experience of joys of learning. I invite you to come recharge yourselves at NCTE’s 102nd Conventon at MGM Grand Conference Center, November 15-18, 2012 Convention Chair Sandy Hayes and her committee have planned an outstanding convention around the theme of, Dream • Connect • Ignite! Go to the website NCTE Annual Convention for details on the speakers, the program, places to lodges and forms to register. You’ll find information about ways you can nominate co-workers for the Classroom Excellence Awards, for running for an office in your local council or for the state board of directors, and for links to other resources to help you meet the inevitable challenge of teaching in effective, efficient, and creative ways.
Updated from California English, “President’s Perspective” for September, 2003
Anna J. Small Roseboro, CATE President (2002-2004)