As the last few weeks of school approach, teachers everywhere are crawling towards the finish line. All year long you’ve been competing with social media and teenage drama for your students’ attention, and the warming weather rolls in to deliver the final blow. There is still curriculum left to cover, even after state assessments have come and gone, and you find yourself saying things like, “We work right up until the end in this class!” (as you wonder where that old-school teacher voice came from).
Maintaining that level of commitment to the curriculum and to the positive behavior management of your students is an uphill battle that you fight all year long, and right now, I know you’re exhausted. I know that some of you just had the most challenging year of your professional careers. Despite your beleaguered state, the end of the school year brings with it additional responsibilities to add to your already-full plate: benchmark assessments, progress monitoring, final report cards, urging kids to search for that lost textbook or calculator so your inventory numbers match, gathering and alphabetizing a year’s worth of absentee excuses… the list goes on.
One thing that most of you will be doing soon is quantifying the academic growth of each of your students. Likely as part of a state-wide or district-mandated report, these meticulous calculations are meant to measure your efficacy as a teacher, but they are in no way a complete representation of who you are as an educator. As you begin to reflect upon this past year, I’d like to remind you - and those tasked with evaluating you - that the most important parts of your profession cannot be quantified.
Here are just some of the things you do that no one could measure with data:
The joy you spark
Whether sharing a simple “Hello” in the hallway, or making a bad pun out of a pop culture reference, you make your students smile every day. You show that you care by asking them about their interests, cheering them on in their endeavors, and celebrating their accomplishments inside and outside of the classroom. You also know that some days, for some kids, school is not the most important thing on their minds. Part of what makes a teacher distinguished is knowing when to push a student to meet their potential, when to give them some space, and when to simply let them know that someone cares. Every day you are a model of kindness, respect, and love, and sometimes, you are the best part of someone’s day.
The magic you perform
Delivering lessons where students are appropriately challenged, where they are actively engaged in their learning, and are genuinely enjoying the ride, is nothing short of magical. And you strive to create that magic in your classroom everyday. You work tirelessly to create and revise lessons to be relevant and rigorous, varying your modes of instructional delivery to access multiple learning styles, and remembering to be sensitive to personality types, preferences, and particular needs. And you are always ON. There is no hiding in your cubicle, no declining meetings, and no working from home. The show must go on, and you are staged front and center; you learn to leave your baggage at the door and give your students all of your energy and attention.
It’s that same magical power that enables you to simultaneously check homework, monitor station activities, secretly provide certain students with properly modified versions of the task, nonverbally redirect an off-task student, and check for understanding with differing amounts of scaffolding that correspond to their zones of proximal development (oh, and also answer the burning question of the student hovering at your door). And you do it all over again, with a new batch of students, every time the bell rings.
The resilience you possess
Let’s face it: you are under the microscope. Teaching is one of the few vocations where people who’ve never actually done your job frequently tell you how to do it better. Sometimes it feels like every curricular or instructional choice you make is judged by those with different pedagogical perspectives, or is considered outdated by the latest educational trends. You barely have time to memorize a new strategy’s acronym before the next buzzword comes to town. Certainly, keeping up to date with innovative, research-based best practices comes with the territory, but it can be dizzying. And something that students, administrators, and parents may sometimes forget is that teachers are learners, too. It’s scary to try out a new lesson, new strategy, or new technology; things might not go as planned.
And as if being your own harshest critic wasn’t bad enough, often negative feedback or opinions about you are published for the world to see. I know many of you who keep your private lives hidden, or avoid social media platforms entirely, to escape the public commentary on your personal and professional lives. Despite all of the scrutiny and second-guessing, each morning you dust yourself off and jump back into the trenches with your colleagues at your side. You follow Teddy Roosevelt's timeless advice and do the best you can, where you are, with what you have (and you can’t wait to nail that lesson next time).
The impact you have
Unlike other professions, teachers rarely reap the benefits of the seeds you sow. Sure, it feels good when your students demonstrate measurable progress in target skill areas, but you never fully know the ways in which you’ve made an impact in their lives. Sometimes, it’s simple: to this day, I still write in all uppercase letters like my 3rd grade teacher. And I found it wildly amusing when some of my own students started doing the same. If you’re lucky, a few students will find the time to reach out or drop by your classroom years later to tell you they remember an activity you did, they still have a memento from your class, or they just want to say sorry for being an unruly preteen.
But you know the impact you can have runs deeper than that. When you strive to make your students feel valued, welcomed, and accepted, you are showing them how they deserve to be treated by others. The example you set and the environment you cultivate in your classroom transcends curricular expectations and helps to shape the adults that your students will someday become. You've heard this before, but the adage is true: Your students may not remember every lesson that you taught, but they will always remember how you made them feel.
So, to all of the teachers out there feeling overwhelmed and disheartened, I want you to know that despite the spreadsheets of data in front of you, the difference you make in the lives of your students can never be quantified.
I want you to know that we see you.
We value you.
And what you do matters.
Turnitin empowers teachers and students by creating tools that enhance formative feedback, promote academic integrity, and minimize grading time, but more importantly, we think teachers are amazing and we appreciate all that you do.
*To my veteran English teachers: the gender-neutral, singular form of “they” was used throughout this post. I felt some of your eyes twitch when you saw that.
Having taught 7th grade for 15 years outside of Pittsburgh, PA, Jill dedicates this post to her CVSD colleagues, especially her Red Team family.