This week is Valentine’s Day, a time to celebrate love. In the spirit of Cupid, teachers across the nation are sending social media “arrows” at the education profession through the #LoveTeaching Week campaign. It would be tough to think of why I #LoveTeaching without recalling my reasons for becoming a teacher in the first place.
If you had asked me when I was a child what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have told you unequivocally, “I want to be an eye doctor.” I thought then that I could ‘see’ my future clearly, but it was not until I was able to ‘better see’ everything in my life that I realized I was destined to be a teacher.
From the young age of ten years old, I was regularly in front of physicians and surgeons who were trying to help me combat a degenerative eye disease until my sight was eventually restored through double cornea transplant surgery. This experience transformed my life from once being unable to drive a car or read a book, to now being able to see better than 20/20; it was a complete miracle for me. Based on my experience as a patient, I was inspired to become a physician to serve others as I had been. This led me to a medical research internship in college. It was then, while working in a kidney disease clinic doing research as an undergraduate senior, that I felt God calling me to use my talents in a different service vocation, teaching.
While pursuing a career in medicine, studying science and earning a degree in philosophy, I engaged in several enrichment activities to gain more perspective in preparation for medical school. These included hospital volunteer work with a music therapist teaching a music class to patients, tutoring science and math students in my local area, giving piano lessons to children, and leading indoor cycling classes at a fitness center. Working in medical research also gave me the opportunity to present findings at national conferences, and then to train hospital staff on those same projects. Eventually, a mentor at the clinic helped illuminate for me that all those teaching-themed experiences were not just coincidental.
My entire life has been one centered on faith, and I always knew that I would use my talents to serve others in some way during my life. In reflecting on all the teaching that I was doing, I realized that this was more than a mere sign in my life. Having been given back my sight allowed me to participate in so many teaching activities, and engaging in those experiences allowed me to find my purpose. When I realized that teaching was a way for me to ‘give sight’ to students in learning, it was clear that I was going to be a teacher. Combining my love for science and my calling to education, I went back to school to become a science teacher. It has been a truly rewarding experience that has continually reaffirmed for me that I correctly heard and answered the calling for my life.
All those same experiences, which helped shape my pathway to become a teacher, have taught me many things that have contributed to my classroom success. The most valuable of these lessons for me has been that in order to be a great teacher you must first be a great learner. This has been a core value of my teaching. Putting learning first in all I do has made me the successful teacher that I have become.
Over the course of teaching science in Arizona and Michigan, I have had opportunities to work and connect with hundreds of students, teachers and schools in meaningful ways. I have seen myself grow as a learner in two main areas: concern for and influence in education. My career began focusing on my sphere of concern for my own classroom and growing my sphere of influence with my students. As I gained influence in my classroom, my sphere of concern for education grew beyond my classroom walls. In turn, my influence has grown to help me attend to my sphere of concern for education as a whole.
Beginning with my own classroom instruction practice, I worked to develop best practice methods of teaching science, shifting to a standards-based assessment and grading system, and implementing a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) program for students in my classroom. As colleagues started to notice the classroom success I was having, I was given opportunities to share my expertise with other teachers. Engaging in regular sharing with teachers, through workshops, in-services, conferences and social media, I have now developed a professional learning network of hundreds of educators from around the world to influence education more widely.
My work with other teachers is contributing to the education of thousands of students, as far as the UK, Japan, and the Middle East, but most notably in my own district. I coach 600 K-12 district teachers on classroom instruction, but also support school improvement and district goals. I worked to bring a student-mentoring program, Link Crew, to my school, and now I am organizing outreach events that create more opportunities for students to be leaders out in our community. As a teacher leader, my sphere of influence gives me the chance to contribute to many classrooms of students, not just my own. Through work I have done in my district as an instructional coach, I made the front-page headline story in the Detroit Free Press for my work training new first year teachers during our district staff orientation. This story showcased my lessons for learning and helped promote a positive public image of education.
Beyond my district, I am a mentor in the Galileo Teacher Leadership Academy where I learn with, and have taught, 120 teachers from the Metro Detroit area about Common Core instructional strategies. Additionally, to enhance teacher leadership around Michigan, I started a statewide social media challenge where educators share ideas weekly through a blog chat on my website. I hold a non-voting seat on the Michigan State Board of Education, where I influence education for all state students. I also actively meet and work with legislators, including taking them on classroom rounds, to showcase learning in our schools. I believe the influence I have developed has helped me globally attend to my concern for education, but also to grow as an educator, a leader, and a learner.
By choosing a path in education instead of medicine, I may not have been able to become an eye doctor; however, as a teacher, I do get to help others learn to see in their education. One reason I #LoveTeaching is that I get to play such an important role in helping others to learn.
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