“You choose a thankless job, you can’t be upset when nobody thanks you. Don’t start chasing applause and acclaim. That way lies madness.” ~ Ron Swanson
I don’t know of a teacher who decided to get into the education profession for the acclaim, applause, recognitions or awards. All of the teachers I have the pleasure to work with are selfless and giving people who you will ever have the chance to meet. They are the people who buy extra granola bars and Goldfish weekly because their school backpack program is in need, the people who excitedly buy extra hats and gloves when they are on sale so they can hand them out to the kids who need them most, and the people who on snow days like my district had today are worried sick about who is home alone, who is without heat and who is hungry. Teaching for all of us is about the feeling we get when a kid who has struggled with a concept has a light bulb go off, a former student comes by to update us about what they are doing now, or we feel like we really knocked it out of the park with a lesson we designed.
A week ago today I got to experience a feeling that I wish every educator got to experience once. I sat in what I thought was to be a “boring” assembly about state testing and then heard my name announced as a Milken Education Award winner. I got to see a student on the first row yell “that’s my math teacher!” and a gym full of kids chant my name. I got to hear appreciation and recognition for the work that teachers just like me around the country do every single day. In all honesty, it still hasn’t set in for me. I will forever be thankful the opportunity that the Milken Foundation gave me that day, it is something that will never be forgotten in my lifetime.
As thankful and humbled as I was to have been chosen by Milken (I will never be sure how they found this Kentucky girl) I am just as thankful to the hundreds of people who have led me to where I am now. I have had the opportunity to work with some amazing people and each and every one of them had a hand in molding me into the teacher I am today. One night in a weekly #msmathchat I heard Justin Aion use the term involuntary collaboration to describe taking the best ideas you could find and making them your own. I can comfortably say today that without involuntary collaboration from the best and brightest math teachers in the country that I wouldn’t be where I am today. When people come into my classroom and see kids excited about learning math that isn’t just me. It is Andrew Stadel and his Estimation 180, Fawn Nguyen and her Visual Pattern site, John Stevens and Would You Rather, and so many others that deserve recognition. Those are the people and the things that have allowed math to come alive for my students. I think, or I hope, my colleagues would be the first to tell you that I come out of my room about half of the time and say “man that was a real disaster”. The truth is sometimes I have more lessons that fall flat than inspire kids to own the math but my Beaumont colleagues, administration, district math team, and MtBos community picks me up, makes me shake it off, and try harder the next day.
Perhaps most importantly I am thankful to the 1,500+ students that have given me the opportunity to be their teacher. It can’t always be easy to have a teacher like me, that is so loud that my pod mates have to shut their door to drown out the noise or that is always trying a crazy idea that may or may not work but yet let me have fun with them for an hour each day (and most days they at least pretend they are having fun and enjoying math too!). I will always be thankful to them for laughing at my stories and making a job seem like a lot more than a job.
The bottom line is I am thankful to be a classroom teacher. I am also thankful to the Milken Foundation for recognizing teachers across the country and promoting teacher leadership in such a positive and life changing way. Since Tuesday I have heard more times than I can count, “well at least now you will be able to get out of the classroom”. That statement has shaken me some I won’t lie. I have had opportunities to leave the classroom each year for the last three or four years but I have inevitably chosen to return to room 406 for another year of professional growth and learning at the hands of 120 twelve and thirteen year olds. The time may come at some point for me to leave the classroom but it certainly won’t be a decision I take lightly or that I look as a way “out” of teaching kids. If I ever leave the classroom (and I am not sure I ever could leave it full-time) it will be because I feel like I can positively impact more kids by helping teachers on a larger scale. In the mean time I will remain thankful that I get to be a classroom teacher.