November 22, 2019
This is the third in a series of guest blogs by the 2019-20 Michigan Regional Teachers of the Year. Katie Farrell, a first-grade teacher at Bauer Elementary in Hudsonville Public Schools, is the Region 3 winner.
When I reflect back on my own education and the moments that shaped my desire to be a teacher, I am always led back to my first-grade year. Being one of the smallest and youngest students in the class, I struggled with confidence both socially and academically. My peers always seemed more sure of themselves, and concepts came much quicker to them than they did for me. I had all the potential in the world to succeed, but it needed to be recognized.
My teacher, Mrs. MacDonald, was the first teacher to bring it out of me. Her patience and kindness were two things I remember vividly. She recognized the positive traits in me that I hadn’t yet been able to realize. I remember being pulled aside one day because she wanted me to befriend a fellow student who was struggling to make new friends.
It may have been a ploy on her part to get me to open up, but hearing that I was important in her eyes sparked a feeling in me that I will never forget. I mattered to her, so much so that she thought I could potentially help someone else. She was the first teacher to make me feel seen. It was because of those moments during first grade and the many others that followed that I felt a calling to ensure all students would have the opportunity to feel that same way.
This is a story I imagine is quite a common one when you ask a person why they became an educator. We all have those teachers we remember making a lasting impression on us, and often it is because of them that we realize our desire and passion to become educators ourselves. For me, however, this isn’t where my narrative ends. I have come to realize over my 15+ years in education that there are many more people out there who have and continue to inspire me and give me purpose in why I became an educator and why I believe teaching is one of the best professions out there. We become educators to make a difference in the lives of others. The ironic part is, education continues to make a difference in MY life too.
I have colleagues like Jill, who is ridiculously skilled at working with students to handle their big emotions. Her patience, compassion and ability to think on her feet blow me away every day. She is a model of how to remain steady and calm in the face of the unknown. Because of her example, I am able to view situations from different perspectives, those of empathy and compassion. It is teachers like her that help to teach me about the impact of kindness and the goodness of humanity. I carry those lessons with me as I encounter students, peers, even my own children.
Other colleagues, like my teaching partners, Holly, Lauren and Tori, have challenged me to keep learning and growing. Early in my career, I naively thought I knew all of the answers. However, time has taught me that we truly do not ever stop learning. Finding those fellow teachers who are willing to learn along with you and to push and challenge your thinking can make a huge impact on your teaching and your life. It is in those relationships that we have an understanding that no one has or will have it down perfectly.
Teaching requires many moments of trial and error, much the same as in life. We don’t have to have all of the answers, and there is excitement in learning new things. When you surround yourself with colleagues who understand this, it allows you to grow in a safe and supportive place. It makes coming to work each day a fun adventure! I am eternally grateful to those people in my life, both in my building and beyond, who nudge me further each day.
Being an educator can also give you an immediate support system. As a member of the Regional Teachers of the Year group, I have had the opportunity to connect with nine other amazing educators. We come from different parts of the state, teach different subjects and grades, and have really only met a few times over the past several months. These are not people I see day in and day out. However, I know that should I ever need something, every single one of those people would be there to support me, no questions asked.
I believe this is true for most educators. We have an unwritten code of support for one another. Maybe because we understand the grit and perseverance it takes to work in this field. But I would argue that it is also because we know that this is not a job you do alone. Teachers live by the understanding that supporting one another is how we make this world a better place. We are better because of and with the people we are surrounded by.
I have been blessed to work with colleagues who have challenged and supported me, cried and laughed with me, but most importantly, learned with me. It is because of these educators that I am the educator and person that I am today. So keep making your impact, teachers. Know that you are affecting not only your students, but the colleagues that surround you as well.