My Teaching Heart

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Recently my school held our First Annual Charity Auction. My boss asked me to be the guest speaker and share my goals for the students and the reasons I teach. When I sat down to write my speech I was surprised how quickly the words flowed onto the page. Being able to give this speech meant a lot to me. I was honored that Pastor Starkey asked me to do it and I was excited to share my passion with people that haven’t heard me talk about what teaching means to me. I want to share how meaningful it is to be able to choose where your kids go to school (Oregon doesn’t have school choice like Arizona does so private school and very few charters is as good as it gets). I am super passionate about education and felt so blessed to get to share my thoughts.

Since the speech went well I decided I’d share it here too. I might as well make my feelings known to my readers too! So below you will find the speech I gave in front of 200 people, give or take a few, at our school fundraiser. Enjoy!

Thank you all for being here tonight. As you have heard I am Whitney Smith and I teach 2nd and 3rd grade at Cascade View. I feel so blessed to have stumbled upon this school when looking for a job after moving back to Oregon from Arizona last fall. When I left Arizona after my husband was promoted, I had no idea what was in store for me professionally. I honestly thought I would never teach again. You see, in Arizona charter schools and public school choice is abundant. The expectations for teachers to fulfill licensing requirements are very different and frankly, less expensive than they are here in Oregon. I had also found a Classical School to teach at that lined up directly with my values and thought that might be hard to find in Oregon.  So instead of pursuing teaching, I began looking for jobs in retail because before I taught I worked at Fred Meyer. I figured that was where I would land. But the more I looked the more I found myself scrolling through teaching job posts, applying for teacher’s aide positions.

My heart was telling me I needed to go back to the classroom. One day, I stumbled upon a post for a teaching position at a private Christian school in Sublimity. It was a very recent post, so I figured if I acted quickly I might have a shot at it.  I googled the school, looked at the website and called to inquire. I spoke with Pastor Starkey and he asked if I could come in for an interview as soon as possible.

You see, the school was growing pretty quickly. Word was spreading that there was affordable Christian elementary education available near Stayton. At this school kids get a Christ centered education for a fraction of the cost of some other schools in the area. Cascade View was offering real choice for parents in this more rural area. More kids were signing up every day, which meant more teachers were needed. Sitting in Pastor Starkey’s office talking about the growth of the school got me very excited. For the first time since moving back to Oregon I thought it would be possible for me to be a part of a school I could believe in.

I am a teacher because I love learning. I love studying God’s creation and thinking about all of the things that are true and good. I am a teacher because for 6 hours a day I get a chance to rediscover things, I thought I knew, with my students.  When I get the opportunity to teach something to my students that they didn’t know before it is such an honor. I want them to love learning as much as I do. My number one goal as an educator is to inspire my students to become lifelong learners.  I want them to ask questions, make observations and engage with everything we are learning. I want them to delight in hard work.

No really, it is possible to delight in things that are difficult, even when you are 8 years old, because when you have made it through something hard, you know you have truly learned. The effort you have put in might not get you the results you wanted, but results are there. They may lay dormant but someday they will come to the surface and it will feel good. Almost, like when you finally find a way to itch that spot on your back that is just out of your reach.  But in order to feel that way about work you have to be taught to appreciate discovery and recognize what you have done.

It has been my experience that when students are taught from an early age that school isn’t meant to be easy, that discovery and understanding take time, they love school more and they are more willing to try when things get tough. Hebrews 12:11 says, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” This is the perfect verse for elementary school.  Elementary age students crave structure and routine, order and balance. They want their teacher to offer them a chance to live up to high expectations. They want their teacher to tell them when they are wrong and how they can become right. They want their teacher to be excited about teaching so that they can become excited about learning. They deserve the chance to know that mistakes will be made, but it is how you correct them that matters.

Teaching children to be disciplined when it comes to their studies is an important part in creating lifelong learners. Diligently completing classwork with accuracy is something our students are all expected to do. Learning how to print correctly and write in beautiful cursive script is a high priority. We spend 30 minutes per day just on penmanship. Homework is the most important piece of the discipline pie. Being away from the classroom but continuing the practice of skills taught when in school helps create good learning habits. It teaches students to use information to solve problems without the help of their teacher. It helps parents remain involved in their studies. Most importantly, it teaches them that learning isn’t done when they leave the classroom. Students who learn to be disciplined about learning will learn to ask better questions, make better observations and remain engaged with the world around them.

I learned very quickly that Cascade View wants to foster this relationship with their teachers and students. I knew at this school I would be given the opportunity to educate the whole of these students; body, mind and soul. I knew that everyone I worked with would be working hard to produce the best students they can; we all want  to use our enthusiasm and passion for learning to inspire growth in our students and to demonstrate our love of God to teach them how to live well.

We want to make sure that when our students leave our school they are ready for what awaits them. We want them to have inquiring minds, but to remain humble and kind. We want them to type beautifully constructed essays and solve mathematic equations, but we also want them to know God and feel Him working in their lives. We want them to understand that fairness is about getting only what they deserve and sometimes it might take a long time or very hard work to see any results. We don’t want them to shy away from challenges or quit trying new and hard things for fear of failure. We want them to see the truth, beauty and goodness in our world. We want them to understand that true education is a lifelong pursuit and it is chiefly done by them, the students. Not their parents, not their teachers; ultimately they are responsible.

Teachers are important because they guide the students to these understandings. They offer insight and teach skills. But mostly, they model what learning is. I am not the best teacher, there are times when I leave my classroom kicking myself for all of the missed opportunities I let slip by. But, it is times when a student pipes up with an observation like, “Grammar is a lot like Math with words instead of numbers.” Or describes the relationship of whatever Chronicles of Narnia book we are reading to the Bible story we are studying that I know the seeds of learning have been planted; that my students are not only bettering themselves, but me as well.

Recently we ordered some Painted Lady Butterfly caterpillars for our classroom. We are studying insects and their life cycles in class so bringing in the real thing to watch right before our eyes seemed like a good idea. Not only were the students excited to have these small creatures in our classroom but they began asking so many questions that I had to do some research. Their delight in discovering the how and the why was inspiring.  Watching the students study these tiny insects and marvel at their development reminded me that part of my work here on earth is to help my students develop and grow into what God wants them to be, just as he does with a butterfly. In order to do this I must continue to inspire my students to learn with gladness.

During this same insect unit we read Proverbs 6:6 together, “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise.” When we read this the students first asked me what a “sluggard” was, but then immediately wanted to talk about how this verse applied to them and their schoolwork. One student said, “That is a good one for us to remember so we can always remember to work hard.” In the morning before school I always ask for prayer requests and now it never fails that one of them asks that we pray for perseverance and the ability to work hard.  Through God’s word and examples demonstrated in the classroom the students at Cascade View are inspired to learn and work hard.

One of my favorite ways to realize that a student has been inspired to learn is when they do something related to the classroom on their own time. This year I’ve had students ask for children’s Bibles of their own so they can read what we have gone over in class at home whenever they want. I have had students bring in pictures they have drawn that demonstrate their understanding of a Science lesson. I have had students write stories and bring them in to share with the other students. These instances show me that they are engaged, that they are learning and that they will want to keep on learning even after they leave my classroom. These instances tell me that a life-long learner is something that they want to be and that they only need teachers and parents to remind them of the goodness in that.

Thank you again for being here tonight to support our school. With your help the cost of an education like this will remain low. Parents will have a choice about what type of education their child receives and people like me, who love to inspire learning, will have a place where we can fill our hearts.

There it is folks. My heart for teaching. I could have gone on for a lot longer, but 11 minutes seemed like long enough to torture the poor people that had to listen to me.

Until Next Time,

I love you more than Painted Lady Butterflies and Grammar as Math in disguise,

Whitney

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