When I look back on the 2018-19 school year, it seems like a blur. It reminds me of Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are (1963). “[A]n ocean tumbled by with a private boat for Max and he sailed off through night and day and in and out of weeks and almost over a year to where the wild things are.” Being named the 2018-19 Rock Hill School District teacher of the year came with many rewards and responsibilities. Although I am very grateful for the ongoing support and recognition, this year challenged me in ways I never imagined.
The first challenge was the limited time management. As a DTOY, I had several out-of-class professional development days, with our local district and state forums. These are great resources where teachers can stay informed and advocate for one another and our students. However, this meant that I had to adapt how I taught my students to balance my time away. As a result, I became more adept at blended learning, leveraging our learning management system and flipped videos. I also had to modify my switch to choice reading in my classes, limiting the data that I collected. Yet, I’m still hopeful that offering more choice is the right decision because many students embraced the opportunity to read self-selected texts, and I was able to better differentiate learning for my students.
The second challenge was advocacy. I’ve always tried to be an advocate for myself and my students, but this year forced me to research and learn much more about education reform efforts, legislation, and politics. It is frustrating to see so many decisions that are made “for our students” that don’t appear to consider peripheral or long-range impact to public education. I found myself speaking to our state representatives and attending several town hall meetings with legislators. If I truly believe in leading by example, that means that I can never return to the way things were in my classroom; I must continue to stay informed, be willing to write and call my senators and representatives, and act on the behalf of this noble profession. While this may seem like I’m simply adding more stress, I’m excited about the opportunity to work with legislators, business leaders, my teacher forum, district personnel, parents, my school administrators, my colleagues, and my students. We should all have seats at the table to find innovative and empowering solutions that will benefit public education in the long-term.
The final challenge was grace. Throughout this school year, my teacher and mom guilt was in overdrive. I wasn’t doing enough. Not enough football games or performances. Not enough time in the class to get through standards. Not enough writing opportunities. Not enough feedback. Not enough family game nights. And on and on. I was reminded on more than one occasion to stop and take in the moment, to enjoy this awesome achievement. I was so quick to focus on what I wasn’t doing or needed to do, that I forgot to give myself some grace. I love my profession. I love my students. I love my colleagues — both near and far. I love my children. This school year challenged me to love myself and all of my efforts in the classroom and at home. It also challenged me to accept compliments and offers of help (skills I’m not sure I’ll ever master!). There is grace all around us, and we are exactly where we need to be to do good work. We just need to be open to the wonderful opportunities provided.
As I wave good-bye, driving over night and day and in and out of weeks and over this school year, I’m so very proud of my students, my colleagues, and my sons who made this journey with me. I am very fortunate to have had this opportunity, and I hope to continue to grow as a teacher leader, inspiring, supporting, and challenging others.