Editor’s Notes: Renee is CT Certified, leads the accreditation efforts at her school, and serves on accreditation teams. In addition to these words of perspective and encouragement, you can hear her advice to teachers and administrators facing accreditation in this recent episode in the Curriculum Trak Teacher’s Lounge.
When I started teaching, we used a ditto machine to churn out soggy worksheets that made our fingers turn purple. We met in church classrooms that had to be reset every week after the Sunday evening service, putting away adult chairs and repositioning student desks. It took hours with a calculator to painstakingly average grades and write them by hand onto cardstock report cards. Every day I filled the blackboard with writing in colored chalk only to erase it and start over the next day. No one had a cell phone “for emergencies.” You went to the school office to use the phone. Three and a half decades and still going in the ministry of Christian education has allowed me to see and experience great change. I was the first teacher in my school to have a desktop computer in my classroom (thanks to my dad), and I was the first one to try a software program to keep track of grades. I had a big, chunky television on a tall, wheeled cart so that my sixth graders could watch the PBS series, Voyage of the Mimi. I often point out to today’s students that all we knew then was what could be found in the Encyclopedia Britannica.
While it has been fun and exciting to participate in all the ways that education has changed, it has not always been easy to flex with the changes that many decades in the classroom have forced upon me. Gone are the days when pitching a kickball to students during recess or surprising them with an extra break during the first snowfall was all they needed to be motivated to get back to work. A fish aquarium and bird feeder at the window no longer delight. I used to captivate them by reading aloud after lunch while they sat and colored. Now, I cannot seem to get anyone interested in picking up a book. To my great horror, being assigned a research project means they watch YouTube videos to learn about a topic. COVID seems to have taught them how to nap and while away time in study halls doing literally nothing. There is more fighting and meltdowns. Students yell and demand. Even teachers are struggling. The job is very difficult. They run out the door as soon as they can at the end of the day, leaving their rooms in disarray. Why stay a minute longer than you must?
Where is the joy, passion, and purpose? It is found in having a long-haul view of teaching and education – sticking it out because you know that there is rarely instant gratification in the classroom. The kid with ADHD who paced in the back of the room with his shoes off is now headed to the mission field. The one whose college essays I proofread countless times is now in law school. A former student from a class I advised has an office down the hall from me; she is our admissions director. By God’s grace, my former students are doctors, nurses, CEOs, pastors, military personnel, and yes, even teachers.
Each year I hand diplomas to students I never thought would cross the finish line and weep tears of joy when they head to college. I attend weddings. Now parents themselves, my former students post pictures of their babies on social media. Perhaps best of all, my students today are the children of my students from two decades ago. At least once a week, when referring to an adult, I start a sentence with, “I taught him/her in sixth grade.” This year I can even say that I taught the wife of our commencement speaker.
I have an email in a desk drawer from 2009. A parent wrote, “When my son and daughter had a conversation about their favorite teacher, my son said, ‘Miss Mungons doesn’t count. She’s so cool, she’s everyone’s favorite.’” I stopped being cool some time ago; it was either when my hair turned white or when I moved from the classroom to a desk job as the curriculum director. My role now is to help our teachers to be the cool ones, to equip them to be great educators, and to encourage them to go the distance. The world is more complicated. It moves at a faster pace. Students struggle with mental health and parents struggle to pay their bills. Technology has fried our attention spans and over-exposed young people to evil and negative influences.
Educators, “Do not grow weary in well-doing; for in due season, you will reap if you faint not.” You are needed now more than ever. Be the steady, loving, stable force in the lives of today’s youth. Keep standing in front of the classroom even when no one thanks you and it seems like no one is interested in learning. Motivate your students to study, build character, and have ambition for the future. Dry their tears; celebrate their achievements; encourage their parents; support your colleagues. Take it from one who knows. You are more cool (and appreciated) than you realize. You are making a difference. So, rest up this summer; read some good books; find some new ideas for projects. Perhaps even take a class yourself. Stay in it for the long haul. There is no greater joy than seeing your students grow into adulthood and knowing that you are a part of their success stories.
Photo by RODNAE Productions