August 20, 2019
Quick introduction and note: This is an updated version of a post I wrote for my much smaller Facebook world back in 2016. I am a white, cis-gender, non-disabled, middle class woman with 21 years of classroom experience in a suburban public school district. My pronouns are she/her/hers. The advice and encouragement you’ll find here is based on my perspective, but I fully acknowledge that perspective has been limited by my experiences, choices, biases (implicit and not), and the privilege I have had in my life. I hope to learn and grow from my colleagues across the state in the coming months as your Michigan Teacher of the Year.
Happy New School Year to all of you dedicated Michigan educators! Hopefully summer — or at least part of it — was a time for renewal, relaxation and fun. As I prepare for the unknown, unique and somewhat intimidating year ahead of me, I have some thoughts to share with all of you. I’ve separated them into messages for teachers in different parts of this journey, but I hope you will read it all. (Movie and book references are an added bonus.)
Dear Young/New Teacher
It’s hard, right? Maybe more than you bargained for? Bet you could fill a spiral notebook with all the things “they” didn’t teach you in college, am I right? It’s not only an incredible workload (that no one outside of your teacher friends gets), but you’re always second-guessing yourself. Am I doing this right? What can I do better? Did I mess up on my evaluation? (I don’t even understand my evaluation!) How do I follow this IEP? When will I have time to grade all of this? Are my students getting it ...? How do I know who is getting it? And on and on and on.
But you must stay focused on the kids. They matter most, and they need your energy and creativity (and knowledge of current dance moves and reality TV stars).
So, as Aibileen says to Mae in Kathryn Stockett’s “The Help”: “You is smart. You is kind. You is important.”
We need you, and the kids need you. We need your energy (and possibly your help with Google Docs). The kids need you to make mistakes, own them, learn from them (laugh at them!) and grow as a professional. Stay with us. Don’t give up. And — most importantly — ask for help.
And You, Middle-Career Teacher
How’s that work-life balance going? Not enough hours in the day? Feeling too far in to switch schools (or careers!), but so overwhelmed it feels like every day brings a new challenge?
Some days you still love (and I do mean LOVE) the job so much, you cannot fathom another path. Other days, you’re spending lunch searching “alternate careers for teachers” on your phone. The pressure on you is different than it was way back when; not only are students relying on you, you are also a mentor to all of those young teachers, not to mention all of the “extras” administrators are asking you to do.
We need your experience, your knowledge of the pitfalls and your courage. You may not know it, but those younger teachers are looking to YOU for how to make this career work. They need you to show them how and where to draw those lines between teacher and student (so they won’t get their hearts broken when those kids let them down; because they will — they are kids).
So here is my — and Dory’s — very simple message for you: “Just keep swimming.” Don’t give in to bitterness or frustration. Don’t give up on all of us. Don’t give up on yourself. Take time for your life outside of your classroom and keep going. Keep growing. Help a young teacher — you are better at this than you know, and this is a career worth fighting for.
And You, Veteran
Still working just as hard, but getting REALLY tired of people saying you’re “burnt out” just because you don’t want to chaperone every dance, club or sporting event or volunteer to head up six different committees. You have more knowledge, have seen more changes, have been around longer than most of the staff (and possibly your administrators), and still you are treated like a dinosaur because you don’t want to “tweet” your homework assignments. You’ve survived every “GREAT NEW IDEA!!” that has come along, and lived to come out the other side.
We need your perspective, your willingness to speak truth to power, and to share your earned insights. The light at the end of the tunnel is SO bright now, but still there is a part of you that doesn’t want to go. Because this isn’t just a job, you know. This is a passion, a calling, a profession, and can be tough to give up.
So until that day comes – and even after you retire (while I know I’m changing the wording in “A Few Good Men” a little), please know that “We want you on that wall. We NEED you on that wall.” YOU are our history. You warn us when things don’t look quite right. And even if (when!) we don’t listen, keep it up.
‘All for One, and One for All’
To close, this is my wish for 2019-20: Let’s — at all stages of our careers — spend a little time reaching out to each other, so we can all be better for kids. Let’s do less judging of and bickering with each other, and more listening to other’s perspectives and experiences, so we can focus on banding together as one voice for our students and for our profession. You want change in your school? In your district? In your state? In your country? You have allies, and they are your colleagues. Remember, as the Three Musketeers (and Bryan Adams) remind us: “All for one, and one for all.”
Let’s make this the year we continue to support each other, no matter where we are in this exhilarating, confusing, challenging, surprising, crazy, scary ride we call TEACHING.
Much love to all of you doing this job. I am so very proud to be a voice for Michigan’s teachers this year. You are warriors and champions for kids. Thanks for reading and may your school year be happy and healthy.
Cara Lougheed is Michigan’s Teacher of the Year for 2019-20, and Meemic is proud to partner with the Michigan Department of Education for the program. Cara has been teaching high school English and history for 21 years in the Rochester Community School District.