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Accepting the Responsibility


Laurie Stenehjem, a graduate of North Dakota State University and a teacher with more than 25 years experience, is a mentor in the Grand Forks Middle School Resident Teacher Program. Laurie and first-year teacher Kimberly Johnson share their journal entries with Education World readers in alternating weeks.

"The most important factor in achieving quality student learning is the competence of the teacher."

I include this quote from the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future (1996) in the signature of my e-mail messages because I believe it.

I also give the students in my Exploring Teaching class a copy of this quote from Haim Ginott:

"I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. My personal approach creates the climate. My daily mood makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child's life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child will be humanized or dehumanized."

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Those two statements put a lot of pressure on teachers. Sometimes I don't want to believe them; sometimes I don't want to accept the responsibility that they imply. But try as I might, I can't seem to come up with any good arguments to refute them. What happens in the classroom really is up to the teacher.

I try to impress that responsibility on the resident teachers in our program and on the potential teachers I work with at the university. I don't want to scare them away from teaching, but I do want them to understand and accept with pride the job of being a teacher. Teaching is not easy, but we do have available to us a large and ever-growing body of knowledge about what makes good teaching. We owe it to our students to learn and to practice what we know in our classrooms.

The changes in Kim's classroom over the course of the year didn't happen on their own. They are the result of many factors, including her genuine caring about her students and their learning and her willingness to keep trying to improve her teaching. They are the result of her attitude and her determination that everyone, including she herself, would find success in her classroom.

I read an article fromThe Seattle Timesnewspaper this week about a recently released documentary film on first-year teachers. The film is called The First Year. Director Davis Guggenheim said that his purpose in making the film "was to make people understand that the job of a teacher is terribly hard and that the struggles are immense, but what they're doing is so heroic and, in the end, so fulfilling."

A quote from the movie A League of Their Own also fits. In the movie, the subject was sports, but I believe the statement fits teaching as well.

"Of course it's hard. It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everybody would do it. It's the hard that makes it great."

Kim's successes are particularly sweet because they are the result of her efforts. Some days have been hard, and that's what makes these good ones feel so great.

Now, to make sure that the hard work and learning keep going for the last weeks of the school year ...

Click here for biographical information and previous entries.

Article by Laurie Stenehjem
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