Sunday, November 23, 2008

Reflections on the Past Year and Some Current Thoughts

Last weekend I had to prepare remarks for the South Dakota Board of Education about my year as a Milken recipient. I love times of reflection because I truly grasp how fortunate I am. Not only did I receive the Milken and all that goes with that, I had a number of opportunities open up before me. I was asked to serve on the Governor’s TCAP Summer Study Committee and I learned more than I could have imagined from there. I am part of the first Teachers Advisory Committee to the Board of Education. I was part of the planning team for the Governor’s Teacher Leadership Conference. While there I got to be part of the opening and speak to about 400 teachers. I was also presented a plaque from the Governor for my Milken award. I was introduced to the state legislature and asked to speak to the Board of Education at the beginning of my year. I had the opportunity to submit some of my lesson plans to Corwin Press for publication. (But since I haven’t heard back, I am not hopeful!) I got to witness the South Dakota Teacher of the Year process up close. I always knew we had some amazing teachers in our state, but having those teachers in the room was inspiring!
I was also names one of Black Hills State University’s 125 Accomplished Alumni. This was quite an honor. It was their 125th anniversary and they selected their top from everyone who attended the university. They treated us to a great lunch. Introduced us all with a short bio and gave us a medal. I was also asked to ride in the Swarm Day parade the next day and be introduced at half-time of the homecoming football game.
I have also had an impact on how my district recognizes and utilizes national award winners. We have the newest Milken in our state right in our district again and I suggested that we honor the fact that we have so many in our district and perhaps pull these people together to do some good for the district, particularly in the area of good PR. In this day and age, teachers need to be recognized in the public as the professionals they are!
I enjoyed my time with the board on Monday. They are always very receptive to hearing from teachers. I also enjoyed my time to reflect. It made me think about the growth I have experienced over the last year in particular!
I realized over the past year that I have gotten over my fear of public speaking. I also realize I have some pretty definite opinions on a few things about education. I worry about how prepared new teachers are fresh from the university and what kind of support they get when they get into the trenches. I worry that we are truly going to see the effects of the teacher shortage soon and it is going to cause things we really don’t want to see happen. There are already rural schools closing and overcrowded classrooms. I don’t think most teachers are doing a very good job of integrating technology in the classroom and we are currently teaching the students that are going to have to be proficient with that when they get into the workplace. I worry about South Dakota being lowest in the nation for teacher pay. I think it is going to prevent us from being competitive attracting new teachers and we are going to lose them to neighboring states.
Perhaps most of all, I worry that our profession as a whole is not as respected as it once was. In many ways, I think teachers are our own worst enemies on this one. Most teachers are very modest about what they do. We are called to serve and we feel no need to toot our own horns. I most certainly understand that. But it has led to people saying things like, “Oh, you are just a teacher.” It has also become the fall-back career – well, you can always TEACH! Sheesh! Where did this come from? When parents drop off their children at the school each day, they are leaving us with their most precious possessions. They better hope we are up to the task of not only caring for these children, but helping them become the productive members of society that we need for them to be. I know I take this responsibility seriously – as do most teachers I know. I think we should, at the very least, be respected for our choice to teach!

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