September 17, 2019
Well, we’re back! School has been in swing for a few weeks now. Our littlest learners have figured out where their cubbies are and how to use them. Our middle school kids have finally figured out that pesky locker combination, and our high school students have memorized their schedules (but are most likely ignoring they even have lockers). And we have set up our rooms/offices and are in full work mode, including lamenting over the daily “what should I bring for lunch?” query.
This month, I wanted to explore what “back to school” means for the people who work with kids every day. So I asked colleagues from around the state — including your Regional Teachers of the Year — these questions: What stresses you out most about the first days and weeks? What is the BEST part of back to school? What does your district or school do to help you feel welcomed and valued in your first days/weeks of school? What could they do more of or better to help you feel more welcomed and valued?
Often the things that stress us the most have to do with the mundane, but sometimes overwhelming, tasks associated with the beginning of a new year. For art teachers like Doug Duncan (Region 7 Teacher of the Year, Kalamazoo), “organizing seating charts, sketchbooks and working out the specials schedule” take up so much time and can be “major stressors,” but ultimately do not detract from the “excitement, interest, and engagement” he sees in his students.
Instructional coach and Region 6 TOY Tricia Zeman (Holt) admits that while “growing new minds and relationships” is wonderful, “having to give students so many tests so early in the year” is less than enjoyable. One educator from Grand Rapids shared that “disorganization and lack of communication” from leaders is an unwanted distraction that adds stress.
Many schools and districts try hard to welcome teachers back, but it can be easy to miss the mark. Teachers don’t necessarily need (or want) lengthy welcome meetings or big assemblies to start the year.
As Emily Sommer (Rochester) points out “unforced opportunities to catch up and ‘play’ together” are appreciated. She shares that events like a potluck or a trivia game can go a long way to “remember why I like my coworkers so much, instead of being pressed into meetings.” Region 2 TOY Amanda Clemons (Manistee) praised her administrators for showing they value staff just by “checking in with us and doing frequent walk-throughs those first few days.”
Overall, the common theme is best summed up by Heather Poirier (Rochester). What really makes us feel valued are “things like the veteran teachers checking on the new ones, a surprise in your mailbox from a friend or even a hello in the hallway” and can go much further than a huge celebration or a bunch of new initiatives.
And ultimately, the one thing they ALL agreed on is not surprising: Resoundingly, my colleagues from around the state agree with Lesley Signorello (Rochester) that the “best part of back to school is greeting the smiling faces! I know it sounds cheesy, but it truly is.”
Todd Bloch of Warren agrees that “seeing old students and meeting new students” makes back to school exciting every time, no matter how long you’ve been there. And Katie Farrell, Region 3 TOY (Hudsonville), says it best: “It is … the most exciting part of a new year. I have the opportunity to teach, guide and mold them into amazing human beings over the course of the year. Knowing where we start and where we end is one of the biggest joys” of our profession.
About Cara Lougheed: I am a white, cis-gender, non-disabled, married, middle class woman with 21 years of classroom experience in a suburban public school district. My pronouns are she/her/hers. Anything you find here is based on my perspective, but I acknowledge that perspective has been limited by my experiences, choices, biases (implicit & not) and the unearned 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 2019-20 Michigan Teacher of the Year.