The greatest lesson I ever learned as a teacher happened to me even before I started teaching. It all started in 1990 with a bench, some shade, and a lazy teacher. I was in college beginning my degree in engineering when I stumbled across a job at a local day care. I soon realized that I enjoyed being around kids and that engineering was not the right profession for me. Within one semester, I switched my major to education and never looked back. I started out my job with a pretty unruly bunch of kids. As the weeks went by I started to clean up a lot of the behavior and things were going great. The students I was in charge of were normal kids, but I noticed as the months went by that they were slowly getting into more and more trouble fighting, throwing rocks, and causing mayhem. One day I was sitting on a bench on the shade pondering why they were starting to behave so poorly, and then it hit me. I was sitting comfortably on a bench in the shade, doing the job that was expected of me, but nothing more. You see it was hot out on the playground but that was where the kids were. I realized that I had started cutting corners as their teacher. What I needed to do if I expected their behavior to change was to leave the shade, step out into the sun, and choose to do what was best for the kids not what was easiest for me.
Unfortunately my early years in school included a long line of teachers who were doing their jobs by sitting in the shade. To be fair I wasn’t exactly the model student. I struggled. I was in sixth grade before I learned long division and junior high before I learned my multiplication tables. On the outside, I looked like just another struggling student—one more student that would “fall through the cracks.” I was socially awkward, talked with a lisp, and did the bare minimum. By junior high, the problems I had spiraled out of control. By the end of my seventh-grade year, I had a cumulative grade point average of 13 and was informed that I would be attending summer school. No one called home, had a conference with me or my parents, or asked why I was struggling so much. The sad truth was that no one stepped out of the shade. .
Despite all negative experiences I had in grade school I made the choice early in my teaching career that sitting in the shade would never be an option for me. I needed to ask myself daily, “Why am I doing what I am doing? Am I doing what is easy for me or what is best for my students?” Not only did I need to teach math well, but my students needed to know without a doubt that I cared about them and that I believed that they could be and do more than they ever thought. Just doing my job was not enough.
My challenge to each of you as educators is to periodically ask yourself where am I? Am I sitting in the shade doing what is expected or am out in the sun trying to reach kids. Take an honest look at yourself at least once a week. It is so easy (it has happened to me countless times) to start doing things the easy way instead of the best way. If you can stay out in the sun and really do what is best for kids amazing things can happen. So this year my challenge to you is to step out of the shade get a sun tan, heck maybe even a sun burn and watch amazing things happen.