The Arizona K12 Center’s Executive Director, Dr. Kathy Wiebke, offers her education insights in this monthly column.
For me, Teacher Appreciation Week is a time of year during which I instinctively reflect on the teachers I’ve learned from, and the impact they continue to have on my life.
I was one of those kids who loved school. I made the decision to become a teacher early on — in second grade, to be precise — motivated largely by my love of learning and the great teachers I had. My decision was only reinforced in high school and college; even those teachers who weren’t so great (and there were some) gave me important examples of what not to do. I discovered lessons in the good and bad alike.
As I continue to meet and learn from educators across Arizona, my personal connection to Teacher Appreciation Week continues to evolve, growing deeper and richer. One Friday this past April, I attended the annual TARIAT — There is a Reason I Am A Teacher — conference at Northern Arizona University’s College of Education. TARIAT is a one-day professional development opportunity for NAU students to meet and learn from exemplary practicing teachers.
The aspiring educators learned about ACEs, problem-solving in the mathematics classroom, community building, and place-based education, among other topics, all of which were centered around the National Board’s Five Core Propositions. They also had the opportunity to hear and learn from the 2019 AEF Arizona Teacher of the Year and Ambassadors for Excellence, as well as the 2018 National Teacher of the Year and numerous National Board Certified Teachers. It was an incredible day of learning and development not only for future teachers, but also practicing educators, including myself. The energy reminded me of why I went into teaching in the first place. I was overwhelmed at the enthusiasm these students had for this profession that I hold so close to my heart.
However, what struck me the most happened a few days later, when I received an email from one of the professors in attendance. This professor had asked the students to provide a reflection on TARIAT, and one responded with the following message:
This conference was extremely effective to me and to everyone I know who attended. It showed us how many teachers love their jobs and their lives. As an education major, I know many people make you feel less confident about your career choice. They bring up money and all the “bad” curriculum. This really sucks because no one ever just says “awesome, good for you.” I think this event proves those people wrong and shows us, future teachers, that it is worth it and it is for us. During the breakout sessions, I learned so much information about teaching in classrooms. Each teacher had such different ways of running their class it was shocking. I look forward to having a classroom where I can use their techniques.
As Arizona continues to experience a growing teacher shortage problem, I have long worried about who will teach our children. Reading this reflection reinforced something I have long known: our words matter. When we speak negatively of our profession in grocery store lines, in front of our students, or in the school hallways, our students are listening. When we discourage our young people from this profession, we are doing them (and future generations of students) a huge disservice. Public education is the backbone of a democratic society and we need people to go into the teaching profession.
Our profession is not without its flaws and warts, and it is nothing if not demanding. We need talented individuals who can move young people to discover their own paths while at the same time being vigilant advocates for them and the profession. A great teacher is one who inspires students and colleagues, constantly seeks new ways to take the practice to the next level, and speaks up inside the classroom (and out).
The student’s reflection ended in the most uplifting manner:
The National Teacher of the Year spoke at the conference and I had chills the whole time. She spoke about her job at the school she works at where refugees come to learn everything … She was so inspiring and so humble it made my heart happy. This conference was so great to me and I will no doubt attend it every year I have left at NAU. Every future teacher should attend because this was the exact confirmation I needed to tell myself this IS what I want to do for the rest of my life.
The last 10 words have inspired me and made my heart happy, as well. I want people to choose this career and stay in it. To this student and countless others, my advice is this: Go forward boldly, as you have chosen an amazing career, and you will make a profound difference in the lives of many.