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“Have you ever thought about going into administration?” The irony in this compliment is that I find myself having to explain why choosing to stay in the classroom should not be seen as a type of “settling”. I am not the only teacher who has heard this at some point in their careers. It was as if my decision to stay in the classroom was a slap in the face of the status quo or a decline of the inevitable “climbing of the ladder” that teachers who receive any type of recognition or accolade are supposed to do.
When did the satisfaction with being “just a teacher” turn into a denial of what I should pursue in my educational career? When did being “just a teacher” become a title that was seen as less than? When did being “just a teacher” hold me back from what others thought to be my purpose in life?
My life and career are a testament that being “just a teacher” is more than enough.Being ‘Just a Teacher’ is More Than Enough Click To Tweet
I went from the corporate world into education, knowing that my love for children began early on. I had incredible teachers growing up, and many that I have maintained lifelong relationships. They genuinely cared about my success and took time out of their personal lives to take us on field trips and college tours. I have such fond memories of my education and teachers and always thought that it would be a blessing to have the same influence in someone else’s life. I wanted to help students experience that epiphany wherein they finally decided what they wanted to do for the rest of their lives. I knew that I wanted to give back what was afforded to me, emulating the influence my teachers had on me.
I had no idea that it was always my calling to teach, but once I understood my purpose, there was no position that could take me away from the classroom. I thought about being a teacher coach but soon realized that this was not part of my purpose. I thought about making my part-time job as a college professor a full-time career and even applied when the opportunity arose. While I learned a ton from the interview process, I again saw that door close as well. I even considered going back into the corporate world, where a nine-to-five would mean that my nights and weekends would once again be my own, but quickly was reminded about why I got into education in the first place.
I have always been a “kid at heart,” from the casual joking around to the more mature ability to make students understand complex ideas. I may not have always had an instant rapport with every student, but I was always willing to find some common ground that would help develop a relationship conducive to their being able to succeed in my classroom. I feel like my greatest contribution to the field of teaching is the willingness to give my students opportunities to show what they have inside them. Teachers can spend countless hours trying to become the “best” educators in the world, but if we seek out, and then work to bring out, our student’s potential or God-given talents, it makes our job of educating that much easier. These facts have helped me to extend my teaching beyond the classroom.
I was listening to my Pastor a few Sundays ago, and as usual, the epiphanic moments throughout his sermon hit home on so many aspects of my life.
“Being [in education] was not on my list or agenda. God knows what He created you to be. Some of you, unfortunately, will live and die and never find out who you really are…Why live and die and never realize why you were placed on the planet? Once you know who you are, life changes… That sense of understanding your purpose will push you forward in life. No one will be able to stop you because you know that you know! There is a sense of understanding that gives you peace…then, as you begin to walk it out, some people will think you are arrogant, because you are so assured of who you are! Let them think what they may, it doesn’t really matter” (Pastor Rick L. Nutt, Vallejo, CA, 9/5/2021).
(Pastor Rick L. Nutt, Vallejo, CA, 9/5/2021)
What matters is the student who comes back years later and tells you how something you taught them stayed with them and changed the trajectory of their lives. What matters is the student who says they might not have crossed the graduation stage without your love, guidance, and support. What matters is the student paying the ultimate homage to the impact an educator made in their lives by becoming a teacher themselves.
Embracing one’s identity as a lifelong educator can come in many forms, and none is more purposeful than spending one’s entire career in a classroom. We understand the peace that comes in knowing who we are. We understand that we were called to teach. We understand the positive impact we will inevitably have on thousands of lives. I am humbled, honored, and genuinely happy that others see me as one of many who wear this heroic badge. As I continue my journey as an educator, I no longer feel the need to explain why I am content being “just a teacher.”
Janet Headington says
Beautifully put, Michele. It resonates...
Just today, a number of students asked me if I always wanted to be an educator, and I unequivocally answered, "Yes," crediting Mrs. McMaster, my Bayview kindergarten teacher, for planting that seed. It was a glorious time of play, art, freedom, exponential growth and challenge. When she noticed my occasional boredom, she offered, "Janet, would you like to help the first graders?" I relished the opportunity and went...tutoring my upper classwo/men. I also fell in love with my 1st grade teacher, Mrs. Boyd, who bestowed the same privilege - go work with the second graders. And the list goes on.
I have had such amazing educators in the WCCUSD, once RUSD (and some not-so-amazing ones, too). I still find myself giving speeches about why I went and stayed in education for so long. Essentially, it's the best profession and the most important one (second to good parenting). I aspired to be like the exceptional educators, who crossed my path, and equally, I aspired to be the antithesis of the damaging ones, who should have never entered and stayed in this honorable profession.
Today was a heavy day for a multitude of reasons.
For one, one of my favorite RUSD teachers, whom I met in this district, when this district still offered enrichment classes during the summer, passed away: Mrs. Grissette, my culinary arts teacher and so much more. Mrs. Grissette became Mrs. Gladys Chance-Perry, and continued being a mentor to me long after that wonderful culinary class.
I was privileged to work alongside her at De Anza High School, my alma mater, and get into all sorts of "good trouble" with her.
Once, in an effort to diversify the curriculum at DA, we did a "buy-uut," (i.e. students could spend $1.00 to attend a teacher talent show, and miss that one period out of the day, and all the proceeds would be spent on much-needed multicultural books). Virtually, the entire student body showed up. It was a success on so many levels...not just monetarily. We not only orchestrated a great cause and received the buy-in, we also exposed our fun, vulnerable sides to students...we rehumanized ourselves and bonded on a whole other level. This teacher talent show led to other break-down-barrier gatherings that fostered a whole lot of good and whole lot of love. It was entirely worth the formal reprimand that we received.
Mrs. Chance-Perry and I also cried together.
I will never forget Mrs. Chance-Perry blocking a campus cop from going after an African-American student. I witnessed her strength and her trauma as she protected our most precious people - our honorary children, our students.
I wanted to publicly thank you, yet again, Mrs. Lamons for being Mrs. Lamons.
You, Mrs. McMaster, Mrs. Boyd, Mrs. Chance-Perry, and more are in the pantheon of great educators - ones that perpetually think and act with their heads and hearts so that our students can do the same. Here's to more amazing students becoming amazing educators, so direly needed.
In solidarity for safer schools of equity and excellence,
Michele Lamons-Raiford says
Thanks so much Janet Headington. I appreciate you always being so supportive. My condolences on your colleague. She sounds like a wonderful educator. Thanks for sharing such powerful stories! They are inspiring on many levels.. Praying more get into education as well. Best, Michele