As we celebrate World Teachers’ Day, I want to celebrate some of the teachers who, early in my career, have influenced and shaped the teacher I have become. Last year, I celebrated my own teachers — in particular, Mrs. Caffrey — and the influence she had on me as a student. Today, I want to thank a few teachers who made all the difference in my very first year of teaching.
There is a bit of luck involved where one lands as a new teacher. When I started in September 1996, I landed at McRoberts Secondary in Richmond. I was teaching outside my area (as a Humanities teacher in a Math/Science assignment), but was immediately partnered with Bill Lawrence as my mentor. Bill, was a kid-magnet and made science and math relevent and engaging. That first year, I remember how he gave up his October PSA Professional Development Day to spend the day planning with me. We both taught a double block of Math/Science 8. We took the time to build several units we could do in tandem. He was also so willing to share. Admittedly, I had some colleagues who protected their lesson plans and resources like state secrets, but Bill’s filing cabinets were always open to me. And even though science and math were not my areas of expertise, he treated me like a true partner in our teaching — although I know I was getting far more from him than he was from me. From “egg drops” from the roof to “the science of breakfast cereal” he helped me see the course wasn’t the textbook.
It was not only Bill who made a difference in that first year. When one is surrounded by excellent teachers, that excellence is bound to rub off. I watched how Doug Sheppard built an outline for a course around student outcomes and not activities — this was a new way of thinking for me. I also saw Doug use a final exam that had only one question, and certainly different from the multiple choice tests I assumed were the only final exam option. I also worked with Gail Sumanik who was in the role of principal, but was a teacher first. She challenged and supported me as I began to figure my way in the profession. And, then there was Fred Harwood, who quietly offered to switch one block in our teaching assignments that first year; it gave him one extra course to prep, and me one less — one of the little things that can make a big difference for a first-year teacher.
It was a bit of great luck I had in my first year, to have mentors who took time to help me become successful, to be surrounded by excellent teachers sharing their craft in a culture that was accepting and encouraging.
As we celebrate World Teachers’ Day — and all the wonderful ways teachers are making a difference; making our world a bit better, one child at a time, I want to thank Bill, Doug, Gail, Fred and all the others for their insightfulness, taking the time to help me find my way, and welcome me to the most amazing profession in the world.
Happy World Teachers’ Day!