What if I told you that the most important thing teachers teach has nothing to do with their lesson plans, the standards, or the tests? If you’re a teacher, I bet you’d believe me. You know it’s about much more. Today as part of World Teachers’ Day I’m partnering with SMART to recognize the positive role teachers play in kids’ lives and remind both teachers and parents to look for the little ways teachers make a big difference.
What My Own Teachers Taught Me
I’ve never really shared very much about myself on this website. You probably know I am an educator. You may know I have a master’s degree in early childhood education. You may have even seen that I was valedictorian of my high school class. You may have assumed from these things that I was one of those good kids who followed a straight path and stayed out of trouble, but that’s not exactly true.
Trouble and I went hand in hand for most of elementary and middle school, and as much as my mother tried to guide me in the right direction she wasn’t always successful, at least not in the beginning. In truth she had a lot of help in shaping the person I became, and a lot of that help came from my teachers. But it wasn’t academics that made the biggest impact, it was the little things teachers taught me and the messages they conveyed to me through their actions. Each of them left a lasting impact in their own way.
When my fifth grade teacher rewarded me at the end of the year with a certificate for “Finding Every Way to Sit in a Chair Except the Right One,” she taught me something. Sure I bet she was exasperated by all the creative ways I could do the wrong thing, but she was patient with me and she found a bit of humor in it. She taught me that creativity can be valued, and it’s okay to be different.
My middle school Spanish teacher wanted so badly for us to experience the culture and environment in Spanish speaking countries. She went well past expecting passive listening and encouraged active collaboration and communication. In every project she took us right “there” to experience what she was teaching. She taught me that there is a whole world out there to explore and people to learn from. (For a more recent example of a project where students collaborated to learn from and engage with other classrooms around the world, check out the Million Lights Project. You can learn more about the SMART software the students used for this project at SMART.
When my middle school English teacher had us write our own original poetry books, I was terrified. I actually enjoyed writing poetry, but the thought of letting someone else read it was akin to running through middle school with toilet paper hanging out of my shorts. So on that nerve-wracking day when I read the feedback on my book, I couldn’t have been more relieved and proud when I saw all of the supportive comments throughout my book. He taught me that what I have to say matters.
In high school, my science teacher was very supportive of our extracurricular activities. In addition to being an amazing science teacher, she attended our dance competitions and was one of our biggest fans. My sophomore year I had the privilege of being the youngest person performing on the front line in our national dance routine. I was good, and I never made mistakes. That is I never made mistakes until the day of our final competition on a televised stage in front of thousands of people. And until then I never cried as hard as I did that day or the days that followed. But she was there as I got off the bus at home with a hug and encouraging words. The next year as I loaded the bus to head back to that same national competition and face my fear of making the same mistake twice, she handed me a note that I’ll never forget. She taught me that it’s okay to make mistakes, but it’s what you do next that matters most.
By far I’m sure it was my high school dance coach who taught me the most lessons beyond academics. I arrived in front of her at dance tryouts as an upcoming freshman with little dance experience, a lot of attitude, and not much self-discipline. But she saw something in me. I knew it that day, and I felt it every day after. In fact she still believes in me all these years later. At every point throughout high school in dance and otherwise she showed me that she believed I could, and so I did. I finished high school as valedictorian and captain of that dance team, a team we led to its first national high kick title together. She taught me to believe in myself and to work hard for what I want. That’s a lesson I remember every day.
And all along the way there were other teachers who taught me about things like responsibility, hard work, kindness and more. They probably didn’t realize all of the little lessons they sprinkled into our days, but they had an impact that lasted long after I forgot who the U.S. President was in 1875 and the Pythagorean Theorem.
I hope they knew how important they were. I hope someone told them.
What Teachers Can Do
When you’re struggling to fit everything in,
When you’re feeling pressed for time,
When you’re worried about your kids’ next test scores,
Remember that every day you’re teaching much more than academics. In the little things you do—the welcoming smile you share as kids walk into class, the high expectations you set for every student, the little notes of encouragement you write, and all the other special things you do to make students feel valued—you are having an impact far beyond the lesson you’ve planned for today.
Be kind. Be patient. And always try to remember what it’s like to be in your student’s chair.
What Parents Can Do
It’s easy to focus solely on academics. We want our kids to achieve. We want our kids to get good grades. We want our kids to be prepared for the future, as if we can really control any of that.
Help teachers by also focusing on the big life lessons kids are learning. Sometimes we want to rush in and rescue our children or blame a teacher. Instead let’s work with teachers and reinforce these lessons.
If your child’s teacher marks off for turning in an assignment late, remind him that being responsible is an important quality.
If your child complains about an assignment they don’t like, remind her that sometimes we have to do things we don’t like. Challenge your child to add her own special touch to the project to make it more fun.
If your child complains that something isn’t fair, try to help him see both sides of the situation and come up with a solution together.
And when your child’s teacher does something small that has a big impact, let that teacher know! Did your child’s teacher give a much needed high five, send a nice note, or come to an event? Anything that makes your child smile—tell that teacher. I promise you he or she will be grateful! Teaching is tough work, and those little reassurances along the way make a difference.
What Other Parents Are Saying
I asked a few of my friends to share some examples of ways their kids’ teachers have done little things that make a big impact, and here’s what they had to say:
“My son’s fifth grade teacher noticed my son would have extreme anxiety about taking tests. She would go up to him and tell him to think of puppy dogs and rainbows. To this day whenever my son feels anxiety he thinks of puppy dogs and rainbows.” -Christine
“Every day my fourth grader’s teacher puts her hand on each student’s shoulder and tells them one at a time to, ‘Have a good lunch!’ That really warms my heart.” –Edana
“We have an amazing social studies teacher at our kids’ middle school—every year, he attends the plays, concerts, football/volleyball/basketball games and all other ‘non-academic’ events that the students in his classes are involved in! He shows the kids that he doesn’t just care about what they learn in class, he cares about supporting them in everything they love to do.” –Jacquie of EDVENTURES WITH KIDS
Now It’s Your Turn to Share
What little things did a teacher in your life do that made a BIG difference for you or your child? Let’s create a list of reminders for all the teachers reading!
Then head over to SMART for more inspiration for World Teacher’s Day and comment on the post: Teachers’ Balancing Act.
SMART Technologies helps great teachers get outstanding results by taking learning from passive listening to active collaboration. Learn how SMART software helps turn lessons into learning experiences at education.smarttech.com.
This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of SMART . The opinions and text are all mine.
Photo Credit: Canva