Teaching is, without question, a demanding job. Many educators suffer high stress and low morale, and many who are new to the profession leave within a few years. With the EducationWorld Teacher Appreciation Contest, we aimed to honor and reward the exceptional people who not only are committed to this work, but who also couldn't imagine doing anything else.
We asked educators from across the nation to tell us why they wouldn't trade teaching for any other job. And we're thrilled to announce our contest winner Liz Kuhns-Boyle, who supports at-risk students in Goochland County, VA. We were touched by the story of how she refused to give up on a challenging student, and how in turn, that student refused to give up on herself. Read this incredible story and other inspiring ones below.
Congratulations, Liz, and enjoy your $250 S&S Worldwide gift card. We applaud your commitment to students and to the profession!
Facilitator, Project Return/Alternative Education
Goochland County Public Schools, VA
It isn’t every year that I have a “This is why I teach” story, but since I started working with at-risk students last year, I've had more stories than in my first 22 years of teaching. Today’s story affects me more deeply than ANY in my teaching career. This is the epic tale of me and Ashley.
My last year as a classroom teacher, I had Ashley as a student in my sophomore English class. Now Ashley came with the reputation of being difficult, lazy and confrontational. I knew I had to “handle” her. It wasn’t too difficult a task, as she rarely stayed at school long enough to make it to my class during the last block of the day. When she did make it to class, she didn’t do much, but overall, wasn’t too much of a discipline problem. She had a couple of confrontations with other students that I easily managed by having her walk down to the office to cool off. Then came that one fateful day I had been dreading.
As I later found out, Ashley was texting her mother asking her to come and pick her up early. Her mother refused, which set Ashley off. She cursed out loud just as I asked her to get to work and put her phone away. I assumed the outburst was directed at me and made the critical mistake of engaging an emotional student. She marched out of my classroom, calling me various and assorted names as I followed her to the office. Needless to say, it was a very low moment in my professional demeanor. Ashley was suspended for the remainder of the school year–it was late May–and did not return to my class.
Fast forward to the next school year, when I started my placement as the facilitator for the alternative ed program. As I scanned through the list of students who would be in the program, guess whose name was there? Ashley! My first thought was, “Oh crap!” How was I going to work with this girl in an environment where we would be with each other all day long? I knew I had to maintain my professional attitude and give this girl everything I had. Dang it! She was going to like me and learn!
Her placement in my program was only to be for one semester, her punishment for the outburst at the end of the school year. However, after a few weeks, she realized that she liked being able to work at her own pace and felt she could be more successful than at the regular high school. After she and I discussed how it would work for her, I submitted a request to the committee that Ashley remain with me for the entire school year.
As the year progressed, we worked closely to ensure her success in the online program, and she began to depend on me to listen to what she was going through at home. We were building the trust relationship. She was coming to school regularly and working hard to stay ahead of the curve in her online classes. Mid-year, Ashley’s brother was suspended from the middle school and became part of my program as well. By that point, Ashley was so ingrained in the success of the alt ed program that she became instrumental in helping me keep her brother on task and out of trouble – not an easy task!
In February, things changed for Ashley when she became pregnant. On her way home from the doctor appointment, she asked her mother to stop at PREP because she had to talk to me. She now trusted me and believed that I had her best intentions at heart. Quite a change from less than a year before, when she was screaming at me and stomping down the hallway from my classroom! We spoke at length about her goals and plans.
Because of her pregnancy and her measured success in my program, the committee decided to keep Ashley at PREP for her senior year. Once she had the baby, I would work with her at home to continue her online classwork. We were going to keep her on the pathway to success and graduation.
Once Ashley returned from having the baby, she got down to work earnestly. She had to complete eight courses as well as take and pass 4 SOLs in order to graduate. I assisted her as much as I could, but math was no match for me. She had to complete geometry and algebra 1 as well as pass the SOLs for them. I worked with one of the counselors to find a math tutor, and in the last few weeks of school, she worked with a tutor, successfully completing both maths. Now she faced the SOLs, and she was terrified.
The English and history SOLs were no match for her. She knocked them out on the first attempt. Math was a different story. She only had to pass one to graduate, but it was a task that proved to be her Achilles’ heel. Having used up all the allowable attempts the day before graduation, she felt defeated. She and I cried together in my office as I assured her of how proud I was of how far she had come from that fateful day in B 122. I convinced her not to give up. She would have two more chances at the test in July, and while she would not walk across the stage at graduation with her peers the next night, she would be a high school graduate by July.
Ashley took that Algebra 1 SOL this morning, after working with a math teacher for two days. Guess what? She passed! When the teacher sent me a message saying she had passed but did not know yet, I asked if I could be the one to deliver the good news. He sent her down to my classroom (we are in summer school session), and I told her. She threw her arms around me and nearly passed out. We screamed and cried like two little kids. She knows that I couldn’t be more proud of all she has accomplished.
Now she moves on to finish her CNA training, so she can take her licensing test. And I don’t know anyone who has worked harder than she has to attain her goals. She takes a part of me with her as she goes, but I know she is one who, with her daughter, will continue to be a part of my life for many years.
Language Arts Teacher
Indian River County School District, Vero Beach, FL
At the ripe old age of six, I gleefully informed my mother that I was going to be a teacher. She smiled at me, told me that she thought that I would be a good teacher, and returned to whatever it was that she was doing, never realizing how prophetic both of our statements would be. I am not six anymore, but I am a teacher, and I am proud to be one. Why am I proud to be a teacher? What makes me keep coming back for more?
In today’s age of educational change and educational competition, being a teacher is one of the hardest professions that anyone can be in. Sure, we only teach for 180 days per year, but we are required to attend meetings, be proactive for our contracts, keep up with professional development, and be prepared to teach every day. Most of these things occur outside of our contract day. Let’s face it…our job does not end when the last school bell rings in June. Let us not forget that teaching is also a rather stressful position. We must deal with school boards, administration, parents and students every day! There appears to be an influx of school tragedies in the news in recent years. It honestly does not matter what the situation is, nor does it matter whether it involves drugs, violence, or something else. The stress is palpable, but as teachers, we must know how to deal with whatever comes our way – no questions asked. At the age of six, I was called to be the person who might someday have to diffuse a dangerous situation, but no matter what I may face, I walk into school every morning with my head held high and eager to face the day.
It is always easy to spot a teacher…she (or he) is the one who, whether in school or not, offers a smile and a piece of guiding wisdom to every young person she (or he) encounters. I am that person. Within minutes of being with me, my friends and acquaintances discover that I am passionate about what I do. Whether it is the countless young people who come up to me in stores or whether it is my animated discussions about day-to-day life, it is clear that I am a teacher, and I am proud to be one. While I have had many successes over the years, I would have to say that one of my greatest accomplishments was the young woman who walked across the stage at graduation, met me at the bottom of the stage and stated, “I am only here because of you.” I am not one for bragging, but I have several more stories similar to that one. According to William Arthur Ward, there are slight differences between levels of teachers: “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” Now as I watch my own child follow in my footsteps, I realize that I truly am a great teacher. Unquestionably, I inspire my students, but there is still more to teaching.
Obviously, as a teacher, my primary job is to impart knowledge. In my classroom, my students write. A lot. I am a firm believer that practice brings perfection, but without practice, one can only hope for mediocrity. I am the cheerleader that few students have encountered, and my students learn quickly that the word “can’t” does not exist in my vocabulary. In addition to writing, my students also read an exorbitant amount. With the excessive amount of reading and writing, the students ultimately begin to improve their critical thinking. I have learned that students will learn what it is they want to learn, but with a great deal of positive thinking, an overabundance of practice, and someone to believe in them, success is usually right around the corner.
There are many poems about teachers and every one of them, especially the most inspirational ones, make it clear that a teacher’s primary goal is to make a difference in the life of a child. I believe I make a difference every day. I make students believe in themselves when no one ever did before. I make students try harder in my class than they probably do in any other class, and I make them successful. I refuse to let my students give up. To me, these elements are the true essence of what teaching is all about. Sure, assessments, objectives, anticipatory sets, and the like all make up the meat of teaching, but the passion is what makes me a teacher, and keeps me coming back for more.
Jennifer Hudson Martin
Greenville High School, Greenville, IL
Having been a teacher for 24 years now, I have had many moments of doubt; however, there have been far more times of success with my students and the bonding and sharing of life experiences. I would not trade these years for anything. About a year ago, there was a terrible tragedy, and there was a mistaken identity with me and the victim of the accident. Immediately, there was such an outpouring of love to me that I had never experienced. Students from past and present reached out to me not only to share their joy that I was okay, but also to let me know how I had made a difference in their lives. Some of these students surprised me, but it definitely proved to me that my career had a purpose beyond reading and writing.
Mary Lou John
Hanna High School, Brownsville, TX
I started my teaching career 23 years ago. During my student teaching in 8th grade, I presented a lesson on Native Americans and their culture to my students. I brought in props, food and interacted with the students. Sixteen years later, I went into a local gas station, and a student came up to me and asked me if I remembered him, because he remembered me and the lesson I had given his class on the Native Americans. I was touched so deeply that a student was so engaged in the lesson I had prepared that he remembered it so many years later. Life is so short and filled with many choices. I have had many ups and downs in my teaching career, but just knowing that I touched the life of one student is the greatest reward in life. I love waking up in the morning and going to work with the attitude that maybe today I can reach another student. This profession is about giving to others and allowing the community to benefit from our precious students who try to make a difference in this world.
Read even more great stories from our Honorable Mentions!
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