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Core Teaching Beliefs - Reaffirming Our Purpose

November can be a challenging month. As poet Samuel Longfellow put it, “The winds and frosts have stripped the woodlands bare,/Save for some clinging foliage here and there.” Along with that “clinging foliage,” our energy tends to hang on by a much thinner thread this time of year. When weariness sets in, it is important to reaffirm our core teaching beliefs and remember why we entered this profession. What is our purpose, and how do we stay true to that purpose each day, regardless of whether we happen to be teaching in a physical school building at the moment? Each of us comes into the profession with a different set of educational beliefs, but we have a few in common. Let’s remember them together.

Core Belief #1: Eyes on the Prize

Why are we here? For the kids. Let me say that one more time: For. The. Kids. We do our best work when we remember that, and our worst when we begin to let all the other bureaucratic whatnot take over our attention. Quantitative data aside, teachers also measure success by our positive influence on the lives of children. A few months ago, I got an email from a former student who had just published his first work of fiction. He wrote to tell me that if not for my class, he would never have dared to think of himself as a writer. Even though I could not see the full impact of my class until about ten years after this student left my classroom, my pride in his accomplishments was as pure as the joy I felt in teaching him before he ever became a published writer. Even if students do not have dramatic success stories like this, we can celebrate the small victories that occur throughout the year. Think about the child who finally turns her camera on after months of being a blank screen on Zoom, all because you created a safe classroom space. Think about the child without a camera on who writes actively in the chat or makes comments on a discussion board to show engagement and interest. Think about the children who persist in trying to learn however they can during these dark times, even if that means sharing a school-issued laptop with siblings. We do this for them. It’s at our core, and we must always remember that.

Core Belief #2: A Greater Good

America may have been founded on ideals around independence, but teachers know that the whole transcends the sum of its parts. In other words, our collective effort creates results that make a difference. Individual students matter, but so do the classroom communities we build. At the end of a school year, our classes feel like our families. Two years ago, I taught one of the most amazing classes of my career. It was a group of teenagers in all four grades, from all different backgrounds. The one thing they all shared was an incredible kindness for one another, and their desire to encourage each person to be part of something bigger was palpable. Some of the more skilled writers helped their less confident classmates along, and we became not just a class with 36 people in it, but also something more significant: one solid group with a shared purpose. In that vein, schools are the same. Without a shared vision that all teachers own together, we cannot achieve larger goals that extend beyond just one classroom. It might be harder in a virtual or hybrid learning world, but if we have the time and the means, perhaps we can think about how to reach out even more to our colleagues so that we can become better, together.

Core Belief #3: Education Matters

If we work in a school, we believe that education is the key to unlocking endless power within each of our students. Education is not just a system: it’s a value. Both my maternal and paternal grandparents immigrated to this country without completing a formal education, but they taught my parents that the key to success was housed in school. Both of my parents went on to earn Ph.Ds and passed along their love of education to me. Many teachers have similar stories, and we know that if we want to help our students who struggle outside of school, the best thing we can do is help them be successful in our classes. That means actively challenging educational systems that do not work equitably for all students, being flexible in our approach to teaching and learning, and continuing to address injustices that place any student at a disadvantage. We know that education is what makes a difference for so many of our students, and it is our job to help them transcend whatever barriers they may face.

Look, we’re all tired. It has been a heck of a November, and to quote another poet, we have “miles to go before [we] sleep.” Robert Frost might not have been the most optimistic of writers, but we can be a little more hopeful about better times to come if we can just pause when things get rough and remember why we are here in the first place. Teaching is not just a profession; it is a calling. And right now, we are being called to hang in there and stay strong for our students, for each other, and for the love of education.

Written by Miriam Plotinsky, Education World Contributing Writer

Miriam is a Learning and Achievement Specialist with Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, where she has worked for nearly 20 years as an English teacher, staff developer and department chair. She is a National Board Certified Teacher, and recently earned her certification in Education Administration and Supervision. She can be followed on Twitter: @MirPloMCPS

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