As we begin the 2017-2018 school year, we will encounter hundreds of students if you have yet to do so. Yearly, teachers meet their students at the door and greet them with a smile, but once the door closes the meeting and greeting stops or is reduced to the "name game." Teachers are so eager to jump into establishing a routine and give an overview of their course they forget how important it is to get to know your students and making sure that students get to know you.
Each student walks into your classroom with a story; a story that you, as the educator, must know. Not only have your students entered with a need-to-know story, but so have you. Your students need to know this story! Our student’s stories play a great role in how they see the world and interact and connect with other. Our stories play a great role in shaping our teaching practices, connection with our students, and how we function in our classrooms daily. Sharing stories open us up to a world that we never knew existed and possibly one we could not even imagine.
When we build a relationship with students and get to know them and their stories, we connect with these students on a different level. When we enter their world we show them that we are willing to help them rewrite their story and finish their plot. When we share our personal stories with our students, they can begin to see us humans and are willing to connect with us on a different level; a level of vulnerability and trust that they need to open up their hearts and minds. Throughout my educational career as a student and teacher, I held a powerful story inside of me that no educator sought to know and I did not trust anyone to share. Because my teachers showed no interest in my story, I felt they had no interest in me. For this very reason, I rebelled in every way possible. In the same manner, I believe that when I see rebellion in my own students, I feel it is because I did not take every opportunity to get to know my students and I put up every wall possible to prevent them from getting to really know me. If my teachers would have sought to get to know me, they would have known that the hurt and baggage I carried daily prevented me from wanting to exist outside the world in my head. If we seek to get to know our students, we will discover that many of them may feel the same way. Once a teacher was able to breakdown the walls I had built up--by getting to know ME--I stepped out of the world in my head and entered into a world that had endless possibilities. The person that many people see today is only because a teacher took the time to get to know me and enter my reality. Just imagine how you can change the life of a student by sharing their reality with them and helping them rewrite the plot to their story.
Relationship building will be the primary focus of my 2017-2018 school year and I encourage this to be your focus as well. Not only will I focus to build a relationship with my students, but I will also allow them to build a relationship with me. I will be open and honest about my story--the good and the bad--and create a safe, vulnerable, and confidential environment for students to share their stories. Overall, I will constantly reflect on the advice of Dr. Lori Mathis and try to understand what it takes for a student to even walk through my classroom door.
Alexes M. Terry
Teaching can be mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausting, especially if you are not properly taking care of your mind, body, and soul while outside of the classroom. Some may disagree with this contention, but it is impossible to provide the best for your students if you are not providing the best for yourself. A recent Huffington Post article questioned “Where Are All of the Teachers Going?” and if you ask me...CRAZY! The stress and demands of the education profession can literally drive a person insane but it does not have to be that way. Self-care is essential to a satisfying teaching career. It will not solve all of the the many other issues within the profession, but it will definitely help with with having a "water rolling off your back" duck mentality.
I’ve been in the education profession for seven years and like many new teachers, I was burnt out after year five. Emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually, I was drained and ready to walk away from it all. However, I honestly can not blame the point that I was at solely on teaching. Many of my issues stemmed from my lack of balance and prioritizing my teaching obligations over my personal needs. Because I was not taking care of myself, I could not fully meet the needs of my students. Yeah, students continued to learn and test scores remained high, however, my students were not really getting from me what they need. I was very distant, callous, and not a pleasant person to be around. When students entered my room, they had to do so with caution. One day I could be warm and friendly and the next, I was cold hearted. When they needed love, compassion, or someone to just show that they cared, I was not that person. Sadly, I can admit that some students failed my course because I failed them emotionally. This is something that I will always regret and vowed to change.
Observing veteran teachers can give you great insight on how to find balance between the personal and professional. You've seen them; those veterans who have been on your campus for years and in the profession longer than you have possibly been on this earth and they are still in love what they do. They would have it no other way. These are the veteran teachers who the students LOVE and they genuinely love their students. They are not those teachers who grudgingly come to work daily counting down to retirement, one outdated lesson plan at a time. But, these teachers are the ones who have seen numerous changes in the educational field but still make an effort to keep up with changing pedagogy, strategies, and best practices. They still take their craft and role in the classroom seriously. They know what it takes to make students successful and keep them coming back for what they have to offer. They have learned, from experience, that their students are only as happy as they are and similar to the saying “a happy wife makes a happy life,” a life-loving teacher helps to create a life-long learner.
So, what can we learn from these teachers? EVERYTHING! But, mainly how important it is for us as educators to remain whole even when things are crumbling around us. These teachers take time to travel during the summer, spend time with family and friends during breaks, and make a conscious effort to put their mind and body first. They are particular about their time and do not allow someone or something to take captive of their schedule if it was not already planned. They do what they love personally while not allowing their personal to conflict with their professional. They surround themselves with positive and uplifting people and instead of avoiding negativity, they allow their light to shine so bright that a dark cloud has no choice but to flee. These teachers know what they can and can not handle and while they still contribute to the campus culture, they have put behind them the days of taking on any and everything presented to them. Theses teachers put their families first and choose wisely when something career wise will put them in a conflicting situation. Most importantly, these teachers take time to do something, daily, that makes them happy and will give them the opportunity to step back. Whether it’s playing tennis with students after work, enjoying a conversation during a conference period, teaching a workout class after work, running marathons on the weekend, or knitting baby items during lunch, they are relaxed, happy, and overall, at peace. Activities as such allow them to decompress from the stress of the job and re-energizes them for next day. They don’t neglect their teaching obligations for these activities but they know that sometimes it is okay to leave that stack of ungraded papers at work or wait until the next day to respond to that email from that angry parent or student. After years of teaching they have come to understand that in order to be an asset to your students and your campus, you must value the most important asset you have...YOURSELF.
Before we start back to school, do something for YOU and make sure to ENJOY IT!
Alexes M. Terry
Have you ever had an amazing idea for a lesson, activity, or learning guide in your head but that’s where it remains? That happens to me literally every day. For some time now, I have been contemplating on launching a blog geared towards educators but EVERY TIME the idea crossed my mind, it seems like a paralyzing fear came over me that caused my brain to freeze and that great idea to remain put. It’s funny because on a daily basis, we push our students to dig deep down inside, into their inner being, to find that creativity that will help them produce something amazing. However, we struggle to cheer ourselves on to do the same. I am a firm believer that as educators, we must practice what we preach. We can not push others to a level of creativity if we are not willing to go there ourselves (Yes! There are levels to it :-)).
Our creativity is what keeps our students coming back for more and our boldness to continue to test the waters is what keeps them hooked. Knowing this, many educators hide behind the ideas of others and pre-made lessons because of what we feel we are unable to do. Yet, we can do it and we must remind ourselves of that everyday. That lesson you’ve been thinking about…YOU CAN DO IT! The activity you’ve been dreaming of…CREATE IT! That awesome strategy you want to implement with your own twist…GO FOR IT! That vision you have for your campus…PLAN AND IMPLEMENT! And that blog you want to start…WRITE IT (That one is personally for me). When a creative thought pops into our head, it is coming from a special and divine place. A place that only God can tap and he wants to use us to push it out into the earthly realm. However, in order to do so, we can not allow the fear of intimidation or inadequacy to overcome us. It is easy to browse popular teacher website and think to yourself, “there is no way I can produce something like this,” but you can and hopefully after reading this you will!
When tapping into our creative being, you must first be willing to free your mind. Secondly, you must go forth understanding that even Edison made crappy inventions (Yeah! He too stole the ideas of others but that’s not what we are focusing on) that forced him to go back to his lab and reflect on how he could improve it. This opportunity for self-reflection is needed. As well, it is what will allow us as educators to grow in our ability to create meaningful, authentic, engaging, and relevant learning experiences for our students. Thirdly, we must be willing to take risks and keep in mind that our students may not like or respond to what we create. If they don’t, this is not the time for you give up on yourself, but an opportunity for you to seek feedback from those that matter: your students. Yeah, I said it! Allow your students to provide you with constructive feedback. We do it to them all the time. Provide students with the opportunity to be honest (all feelings aside) about what they liked and disliked about something you have attempted to implement into your class. If done properly, this open and honest dialogue will give you exactly what you need to reflect accordingly with improvement in mind. Lastly, go for it! Get into that space where your creativity thrives the most and allow those ideas to flow. Get your cup of coffee, turn on that Gangsta Rap (or Praise and Worship) and just go for it! What you have the God-given ability to create can be just as good as those amazing lessons and resources on TPT (Teachers Pay Teachers), or those PLNs (Professional Learning Networks) that you troll on Facebook, but you have to be willing to just go for it. When you hit that road block and come to that point of hesitation, remember that when you create something that is awesome, your students benefit (and so can the students of teachers across the world).
We are just weeks away from the start of school and if you are anything like myself, you have started planning mentally or physically. While it is easier to just pull out those lesson plans from last year and stick to what you have done before, never imprison your creativity. Always challenge yourself to create something new. It’ll keep you fresh on your feet and in love with what you do. As teachers and educators, we have many talents and superpowers. Do not underestimate your ability to CREATE! Free your mind and the rest will follow.
Alexes M. Terry
Live, Love, & Laugh has become a popular phrase of the 21st Century. You can’t take one trip through the home decor section without seeing this phrase plastered on a coffee mug, pillow, or even wall decal. To many, it has become just another cliche in the English lexicon but to others, these three little words have become principles to live by daily. I must admit that at one point in life, this very phrase made up my first Twitter handle because I wanted people to know me as a person who was free and, within this freedom, found pleasure in living boldly, loving others, and laughing at things that went right and those that went terribly wrong.
The beginning of August, for teachers across America, mark the start of the back to school season. If you are not already back to school, you are dreadfully counting down those days to the week of in-service. Many teachers will begin not only planning out their school year, but also reflecting on the past school year and how they can use those ups and downs to not only create a better year for themselves but also for their students.
As you reflect on last year and plan for a successful new year, I want you to ponder on the phrase: Live, Love, and Laugh. Allow these words to connect with you personally and consider how these words can transform the climate and culture of your classroom. Allow these words to become your classroom mantra and possibly your classroom non-negotiables. These three words hold power and not only can they transform the environment of your classroom, they also hold the power to transform you as the educator and, most importantly, your students.
When I think back to the teachers and educators who have made a tremendous impact on my life--Mrs. Miles, Ms. Hyde, and Mr. Conard, I think about the life, love, and laughter myself, and other students, experienced in their classrooms. As a broken and distraught youth, it was these experiences that brought me back for more and what began the transformation stage of my life. These teachers were not afraid to LIVE, meaning they let their guards down, as educators, and allow their students to see and understand that they were human beings. They showed us their imperfections and often times shared their stories with us to let us know that we were not alone in those sometimes dark spaces. They LOVED us passionately and devoted countless hours to showing us that we mattered when our surrounding environments did not make us feel that way. They treated us like their own children and when they saw a need, they sought to fill it even if that meant extra time on the clock or money from their own pockets. They showed us it was okay to make a mistake and loved us regardless of our actions. And lastly, they made us LAUGH and was not afraid to laugh with us. They were not afraid to share those embarrassing moments, if they knew it would cheer us up, and made every effort to show us that it was okay to laugh at ourselves and our imperfections. They built our confidence up and taught us that it was okay to live boldly and freely. This boldness and freedom is something that we should seek to pass on to our students, during this school year, and watch how it transforms their lives and our lives at the same time.
As you sit and begin to plan your successful school year, challenge yourself to open up and share your testimony of life. Don’t be afraid to let your guard down and passionately love on your students. Finally, keep in mind that it is okay to smile before Christmas. Matter of fact, when you or your students make a mistake, laugh at it and do so loudly. It will be okay! Live, love, and laugh. Allow yourself to be free. Most importantly, allow these three words to transform your classroom and transform lives.
Alexes M. Terry