Friday, May 22, 2015

Don't Stop Believin'
by Jane Lucas

This is the second of our three-part series celebrating the School of Education's outstanding alumnus and student speakers who were going to participate in the recognition ceremony on Saturday May 9th, which was rained out. 

Jane Lucas graduated from Webster University in 2013 with a master's degree in applied educational psychology, and again this May with an education specialist degree in applied educational psychology: school psychology. 

Jane Lucas
Twenty one years ago this month, I graduated from another local university with a Bachelor’s degree in both English and Secondary Education.  Three months later, I was teaching middle school language arts with a fifth grade homeroom.  I was drawn to teaching at that time by an urge to positively impact children’s lives and to share my love of literature and writing.  I loved (and still love) my kiddos; connecting with them is a daily joy that, frankly, I may be addicted to.  Another big draw for me in 1994 was the autonomy of the classroom; back then, educators had domain over their space, with freedom to be creative and to teach independent of legislative mandates.  We worked together as teams, we were allowed to hug our students without fear of litigation, and we integrated art and music and movement into our lessons without concern for how it connected to the all-mighty standardized test.  We were considered experts on our subject matter and child development.  Parents and students respected us, and politicians trusted us.  Now, buzz words like “Common Core,” “AYP,” “data-based” everything, and “evidence-based teaching” infiltrate the teaching lingo, while the news paints quite a bleak picture of the state of education—both for students and teachers.   Today, everything that can be measured is measured, and those measurements are used to make life-changing decisions for educators, parents, and students.   Teaching recruiting is down, while teaching attrition is up.  High stakes testing means mandates to prioritize test content over big picture concepts.  Recess time is being cut, as are fine arts budgets.  Technology advancements have enhanced instructional capabilities but produced students who rely on electronic stimulation just to focus.  Soft skills are fading across the board.   In short, educating is a demanding job that drains a person physically, emotionally, and psychologically.  It’s akin to parenting—you don’t know how hard it really is until you do it.
          So why do it?  Despite what I’ve just described, there are many, many reasons to become an educator.  There is no greater joy than watching a lightbulb go off when a child finally understands a concept.  There is no greater satisfaction than realizing how much a student has grown and changed from August to May and knowing that you helped make that happen.  Tremendous feelings of fulfillment come when a lesson you worked on for hours not only teaches the concept you intended, but instills a real love of learning to kids.  Nothing warms you more than watching a pupil who once had no friends finally play at recess or sit at a lunch table with one or two others, smiling the entire time.  Listening to your students, reading their papers, meeting their parents, gaining insight into each of them and their own stories, helping them grow academically, socially, and emotionally, and watching that happen in real time—these are privileges that only educators get.  They are not to be squandered or forgotten.  They are to be celebrated.  
          How can we do this without losing our minds or selling our souls to the Common Core gods?  It’s not easy.  Here are some things I’ve learned over the last 21 years:
·       Make content relevant to your students.  Teach math concepts by using sports or music or video games.  Chose literature that contains themes that affect your students but that contain specific literary conventions.  Assign written work that connects to your students’ interests but includes goals for grammar or mechanics or types of sentences.  In short, work within the Common Core; evidence-based teaching can—and should—be created within your own classrooms. 
·       Talk to each other!  Group therapy is not just for a counselor’s office.  You are not the only one who will struggle with a student or a parent or an incredible workload.   It’s okay to share these thoughts and admit when you’re down—just remember not to turn it into a blame game that no one can win.
·       Trust your instincts.  If you think a lesson is failing, it probably is.  Redo it.  If your suspect your students are bored, give them a brain break or a movement break.   Follow their lead and trust that you will meet their needs by doing so.
·       Find your own rhythm.  I am a firm believer that teaching is more art than science.  Be your own artist.  Produce the lessons that speak to you and your students.   Be creative in the way you integrate mandated test content into your daily work. 
·       Remember that each child has his own story, and you only know part of it.  As tempting as it is to judge bad behavior, try to understand the motives behind it.  And never take it personally.  Be comforting when you can and supportive at all times.
·       Lean on those who are there to help you.  As a school psychologist, I am happy to assist teachers with anything that I can!  Please use the human resources around you as much as possible.
·       Carve out time for yourself at school and away.  Even five minutes alone in a faculty bathroom stall can recenter us.  I used to close my door during free periods just for ten minutes of silence, doing nothing but breathing (and occasionally crying or laughing).   Don’t neglect your own families or friends, and come back to school every Monday with a reinvigorated sense of what matters.  Give that gift to yourself as often as you can.  Without my own children, I would not be the educator that I am.
·       Enjoy the newness that every day brings in a school.  Every day is different, and full of surprises.  Expect that.  Learn to enjoy the adventure.   It’s truly a wild ride, scarier and yet more thrilling than any roller coaster at Six Flags.

Finally, as my son implored me to say with the title of this speech, which was inspired by our favorite show, Modern Family, and my favorite band as a child:  DON’T STOP BELIEVIN’.  Believe in yourself, your students, and your ability to make the difference that you want no matter the obstacles.  Don’t stop believin’ that you matter, that your work matters, and that the impact which you make on this world matters.  Don’t stop believin’ that you are appreciated, respected, and trusted.  You do make a difference for families, for our community, and for the world.  EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.  You make little kids feel special and protected and smart.  You give big kids wise advice, encouragement to follow their dreams, and more than just a few high fives on their way to adulthood.  Don’t stop believin’ that EVERY THING YOU DO FOR A CHILD MATTERS.  It does.  And it is my privilege to be counted among you.  

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