Given the circumstances Janice thought she was doing quite well for her first year of teaching - as well as could be expected. Her school was large in comparison to the schools she attended growing up. There were 2200 students enrolled at this high school and she was responsible for 175 of them in her English classes. She wanted to be the best teacher she could be for these students. She wanted to meet their needs and really make an impact. Yet, almost on a daily basis, she felt lost and confused. She felt out of place and oftentimes inadequately prepared for the task ahead. Her principal told her during her interview that a mentor would be assigned to her. It was February and no one had identified themselves as such to her. Janice figures she's on her own. What a frightening thought!
As educators we spend a lot of time assessing and discovering how we can motivate and encourage students to learn. We are aware of those with special learning needs and differing learning styles. We make sure they are fed with free breakfast and lunch programs. We offer after school care. But the most important key to a child's learning is the teacher.
Teachers have needs that if left unmet affect how well they teach. Low teacher morale is a problem at epidemic proportions. If you don't feel good about what you do, chances are you won't do it very well. The soul of a teacher is just as important, if not more important, as her credentials. We can wait for society to wake up and appreciate and encourage us, but better still we can appreciate and encourage one another. Feed the soul of other teachers through mind, body and spirit.
Obstacles We Must First Overcome
There are two characteristics common among teachers that get in the way of ministering to one another. First, teachers are territorial. These are my kids. This is my classroom. We defend that territory primarily by standing guard at the gate and growling at anyone who dares to enter. We don't handle criticism very well. We don't share well. If someone asks for supplies because they've run out, our first reaction may not be to offer them our own.
Second, teachers isolate themselves. We are very comfortable closing our classroom doors. It is not uncommon to walk through a hallway and see every door closed, with construction paper covering a window that might happen to exist in the door. If we struggle with teaching, we tend to keep it to ourselves. In this age of accountability, showing weakness is discouraged. So we may sit in our misery or confusion alone for a very long time.
Encourage Through Mind
We can encourage one another. Who better knows what your life is like than another teacher? Offer another teacher food for thought. Is someone on your faculty working towards their master's degree? Is there a way you can help? Is someone struggling with staying organized and it is your strength? Offer practical tips without sounding high and mighty about it. Does a teacher wrestle with a student that you taught the year before? Partner with him or her to come up with strategies to reach that student.
Encourage Through Body
We know that children's physical needs should be met before they are able to give their attention to learning. Teachers are no different. It could be as simple as leaving donuts in the lounge anonymously. It could be that once in awhile you take responsibility to make the coffee without being asked. It could be that you bring in something from home to make the teacher's lounge more of a haven. Even carpooling can encourage a teacher through body. Look for physical ways to encourage teachers at your school.
Encourage Through Spirit
Our spirits are in desperate need of encouragement. It doesn't matter where you teach, you can address these needs of your fellow teachers. Otherwise, look to meet the emotional needs of other teachers. Remember birthdays, pay attention to what is going on in their home lives, and visit their classrooms once in awhile and comment on something positive they do with their students. Focus on one another's strengths. Appreciate one another's talents. And finally, show compassion to those who may not be the best that they can be just yet.
The soul of a teacher is intimately connected to the school in which it operates. We all desire connectedness. Reach out to one another in love. Remember the saying "If momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy." Consider this then - if the teacher ain't (isn't) happy, ain't no student happy." We may receive the initial benefit of encouragement but its impact reaches out to our students. It's a ripple effect of blessings!
America's Teacher™, Vicki Caruana, spends her time writing and speaking to encourage teachers around the world. Information about speaking engagements and her best selling book, Apples & Chalkdust: Inspirational Stories & Encouragement for Teachers, is now available on her website at http://www.applesandchalkdust.com.