Friday, March 23, 2012

Halfway Home

As this point I’ve now reached the midway point in my student teaching experience, and it has yet to shake my confidence in what I am doing and why I am doing it. There are days when I see students in total disarray with their lives, appearing to stare forward without any contemplation of people passing at their side. Then there are times when they seem to have eyes on all sides of their head, meeting and greeting everyone in sight. Whether their baggage begins or ends at home, I know there are other factors at work, be they positive or negative. Some of them have good support systems in place at home, and I’m willing to bet that their parents are nurturing individuals. Others live in a vacuum where personal energies are likely sucked by anyone and everyone living under the same roof. I want to pull them aside and assure them that somebody cares, but it’s better that I save this line for the classroom where they need it the most.

When the first school bell rings in the morning, students are more often concerned with the status of their social mobility than whether or not an assignment has yet to be completed. As much as things have changed for youth over the past forty years, they haven’t. Their priorities are not those of a responsible adult and in many ways I’m okay with this. They’re still learning how to cope with high school and the age of innocence, and as much as we think they need to be ingrained with every lesson plan, I know full well that it’s not going to happen. It’s not about me making excuses for their lifestyle, only recognizing it for what it is. Meanwhile I strive to lead by example in everything I do, knowing they are constantly evaluating their student teacher.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Recognizing One's Talent

I know these are challenging times for school officials, not just in the way of balancing budgets, complying with curriculum standards, discipline, special needs, and everything in between. As one generation of educators is being replaced by another, there is an ongoing need for Student Teachers to find public schools who will accept them into their system for eighteen weeks. Classrooms aren't what they were 5, 10 and 20 years ago and neither are the teachers and students. Times have changed...for the worse or for the better, and we have to accept it for what it is.
From my experience in sales and management, I quickly learned that when you had a need, you sought not only the skills, but a person's personal drive and desire to succeed. Whether or not you had an opening in your sales ranks, you scoured the sidelines for reserves and recruited first-class stars for your team. This required networking with other industries and a keen eye for talent. Then, when the opportunity presented itself, you made it known that you wanted that individual, whether they were an aspiring rookie or a proven veteran. Don't wait for them to come to you, but go to them and let them know they are wanted.

It happened one day last summer while working as a cashier at a well-known retailer. The individual came through my checkout line and inquired as to where I would be doing my assignment for Student Teaching. I still had six months to finalize my plans, so I replied that it had yet to be decided. "Great! I want you in my school" was his instant response. My casual comeback, "Let's see what happens" was met with "No, I WANT you IN my school!" It was not a simple statement, but bordered between a friendly demand and emphatic rage (in a good way). After he left I thought, here was someone who really wants me, so how can I say no?

It is almost nine months to that day of our conversation, and in my heart I know I've given every ounce of energy and personal creativity in my role as Student Teacher. It's been an absolute joy to be in this person's school at a time when teachers are challenged on so many fronts. I know I've made a difference in the classroom, not only for the students I interact with on a daily basis, but in the professional life of both my cooperating teacher and school principal. I've drawn from strengths to help those who aspire to learn more, and, in turn, they have placed me in a position to succeed as an educator.

This morning I paused for a moment to thank that individual for reaching out to me last June. From past interactions outside of the classroom many years ago, he recognized both my talents and desire to work with young people. He made the most out of an opportunity to add someone new to his school's team of professionals. He didn't wait for me to come to him, but came to me and let it be known that I was wanted. I am not a one-of-a-kind fluke. There are more like me out there waiting for someone to tap them on the shoulder, and then say "I want you on my team!" It takes guts and personal resolve to stand up for what you believe in, and in this case he got more than his money's worth. (And remember, I have to PAY the university to be Student Teacher for a semester)

This is a lesson worth noting, be it for sales managers or school principals. Always be on the lookout for the best. Don't wait for them to come to you, but scour the countryside for the absolute best qualified individual, letting them know that you want them on your team. They will raise the bar of talent for your school or business, and it makes a huge statement about the level of standards you keep as a professional. Yes, those lessons learned in a past career are proven once more.