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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Editor's Note: In celebration of teachers everywhere, Edutopia worked with our friends at SoulPancake to produce this short video. We asked a group of teachers to write a letter to themselves on their first day of teaching. It's a great dose of perspective to help us remember all the ways that teachers matter.

It’s not easy being a teacher today.

National, state and local politicians, philanthropists, researchers, journalists and many other people who have never actually taught a K-12 student are deciding how and what teachers should teach, and how their effectiveness should be assessed.

Sadly, I've met many veteran teachers who are seriously considering retirement. Worse, I've encountered many promising young teachers who are wondering if they chose the wrong profession. How do I counsel teachers who share these thoughts with me?

I remind them of two simple words: you matter.

Indeed, teachers matter more now than ever.

Choose to Matter

This is not a statement I make lightly. Teachers have always played an extraordinary role in the development of their students. In recent history, Helen Keller, Eleanor Roosevelt, Maya Angelou, James Earl Jones and Magic Johnson are just a few of the many highly accomplished people who point to a single teacher that set them on a course toward greatness. I know there are countless other lesser-known stories of teachers who encountered a troubled student and moved them onto a path toward success.

Teachers are challenged to do all of that today, but with their hands tied behind their back.

Through our Choose2Matter movement, we ask students, "What matters most to you, and why?" It's an invitation for them to bravely share their stories. We learned that students today are not as insulated from the problems of the world as they were 30, 20 and even 10 years ago.

There are no more filters -- children today are exposed to everything. Third-graders worry about human trafficking, and sixth graders mention anxiety, depression and body image. They are steadily bombarded with news of tragedies from around the world. Though the world is a safer place than it has ever been, it doesn’t seem like that to a young child who consumes as much media as students do today.

Yet, even as students need the perspective and counsel of teachers more than ever, relentless standardized assessments leave teachers less time than ever to get to know the unique genius and animus behind each individual student.

So how is a teacher to respond to this?

To borrow words that I first shared in the wake of the Newtown tragedy, you already know what to do.

You teach.

9 Things Teachers Do Gladly

No matter how many standards you need to check off, how many IEPs you're monitoring, how many tests your students sit for, or how often you’re asked to shift gears:

  1. You do what you are born to do. You do what you are called to do.
  2. You do what students need you to do.
  3. You make time to touch their hearts every day.
  4. You look into students' eyes, and they see in yours that you love them.
  5. You serve as the voice of reason, courage and hope.
  6. You assure them with your poise and presence that the world is a beautiful place, and that they are beautiful creatures.
  7. You tell them that they matter, that they are geniuses, and that the world needs their contribution.
  8. You choose your words carefully, so that those words help students envision success, stretch their thinking, and advance independent behaviors and actions. Well-chosen, impactful words will stick with your students the rest of their lives.
  9. You TEACH.

Your students need you more than ever. There is nothing that you will allow to get in the way of your changing the lives of your students -- for good.

No, it’s not easy being a teacher today, but yes, teachers matter.

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