Entitlement through Education? Is it to help or to hurt?

 Ask yourself one question. Was it to help or to hurt? 
-   A wise teacher
This response to conflict or upset is not necessarily one that should be reserved for students in trouble or on the verge of receiving a warning for hurting another students feelings or pride, but it can also be posed to educators.  During the last few weeks of school, small class room celebrations and larger moving on ceremonies occur.  These celebrations are important rites of passage for both the teachers and the students.  For the teachers, they are necessary because they represent a sense of closure for the group of students that will be moving on to the next grade.  Likewise, for the students the ceremonies are important because they represent the culmination of hard work or lack thereof during the year.  It is also during these times that teachers begin to question how awards are given and who should receive what certificates or accolades. 
These certificates range from best all around to most improved student and anything that fits within.  However, there are some students that dont fit in the prescribed categories designated for awards.  What do teachers do with these students?  Many feel that all students should receive an award and there are others that subscribe to the belief that you work for what you get”.  I am a member of the latter in terms of what should be expected during these celebrations. 
Students work hard during the year and once the year ends, the expectation is that the rewards they are given for their work encompass their effort and grit. As educators do we help or hurt our students by giving them certificates for showing up or showing out?  Awards ceremonies are not designed to punish students who do not show improvement or struggled in particular areas.  These programs are exactly the opposite!  They exist to highlight the students that have excelled or improved.  What do we, as educators, teach our students if we give certificates of attendance or participation?  Are we suggesting that little or no effort is worth an award or accolade?  This seems to be a topic of discord among teachers; however, I am always left wondering the same thing during this time.  Are we building a strong sense of entitlement and setting our students up for failure if we teach them that a lack of effort should be celebrated as much as consistent effort? Is this mindset one that helps or hurts our students?    

Passion for Change?

You have to go through life with more than just passion for change; you need a strategy. Not just awareness, but action. 
--Barack Obama, Howard University Commencement 2016

Earlier this weekend, I watched in awe as yet another school year has passed and college students are graduating and embarking on their journey into adulthood with degrees and experiences well beyond their wildest imagination.  One of the highlights of the weekend was Howard Universitys Commencement exercises, orated by President Barack Obama.  During his speech, he made a comment that many know to be true, but very few want to internalize.  President Obama suggests, You have to go through life with more than just passion for change; you need a strategynot just awareness, but action.  This is very similar to the bible verse that suggests, faith without action is dead (futile). 

I realize that as educators, many times we think that our passion for teaching will inspire the students to learn.  Sometimes passion is not enough to inspire; you need a plan!  What is your plan as the teacher or educator in charge of leading the students on a life changing process?  How do we plan for success in our classes and among our students?  I can only speak for myself in charting my journey through the year, I plan to see growth and changes, but I cant begin that process until I see where my students are.  I am constantly in awe of teachers planning lessons during the summer.  This level of tenacity is encouraging, however I am unable to walk into the year with an armful of lessons until I see my class roster, data and make expectations for each student.  This is a quality that I learned from a few veteran teachers over the course of my career.  You take your students and begin to draft plans based on the class, but you cant do that until you have the actual information about the students.  My strategy is data driven and thrives on the need to know my students in order to create attainable goals for each of them.  Thus, reinforcing the idea that your passion has to coincide with a strategy for success, the success of your students.  

Do educators take time to appreciate themselves?

As I come to the close of almost a decade of Teacher Appreciation weeks, I am curious about what Teacher Appreciation really means to hardworking educators across the country.  Teacher Appreciation week gives students and parents the opportunity to #thankateacher, but how many students and parents spend that time thanking educators for the tireless hours that they spend working with, caring for and nurturing their children?  Most importantly, how many times do educators reflect on how much time they spend doing the work? Many times, this week is reserved for administrators, reaching back and showing how essential their faculty and staff really are to the school environment.  Although this is important, I would like to take a moment to reflect on what teaching really means to me as one of those self-proclaimed hardworking educators.  Each year, I begin with a sense of completion as I realize that the year that I am walking into has to be better or more successful than the prior year.  My challenge, as a teacher, is one that is centered around growth and professional development with my students and colleagues.  During pre-planning, time is spent looking back on the mistakes, challenges and successes of the year before.  However, in those moment, many decisions have to be made concerning what the upcoming year should look like.  When I begin looking at the mistakes that I made the year before, I start with my students and their growth, then I reflect on my time management and lastly, I look at the time that I spend with my coworkers and dissect the value, hoping that we have more positive and less negative moments.  All of these experiences comprise a personal professional plan that I create in order to address each one of these areas.  By mid-year, many of the changes that I have put in place are either perfected or abandoned. I begin to center my thoughts so that I can objectively look at what is working and what is not working.  I also begin to prepare myself personally for the end of the year.  So many things happen during this time and these thing force me to look at my next steps.  It is also during this time that Teacher Appreciation comes around and I realize that we, as educators, work really hard to consistently be the best version of ourselves as professionals.  This week should not be the only time that we remind ourselves of that.  This sentiment should be our personal reflection always. Regardless of how many small tokens of appreciation we receive as educators, we must take the time to appreciate ourselves for preparing the next generation of leaders.  I cannot express how often I forget that this is one of the most meaningful professions and spending one week reflecting on that is not enough.  I have firmly decided to spend each year in reflection, charting a journey of appreciation for small, medium or large wins.