Teacher Appreciation Week 2018: Reflecting on our own Learning

This year to mark Teacher Appreciation Week we, at SEEC, decided to reflect on our past educational experiences as students, our present self-care practices, and our future hopes for our students and the early childhood field.  

Today, we’ll begin by sharing memories from our past experiences in school in hopes they will shed light on who we are as people and educators today. During Teacher Appreciation Week, we value being recognized as educators but also wanted to take time to appreciate and remember the educators in our lives who helped us become who we are today. Below are questions and responses from our SEEC educators.

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SEEC teachers as children.

Many reflected on how a teacher empowered them as students, and how that influences their own teaching philosophy:

One of my math teachers in high school set up the class so we as students taught each other. He would assign us homework on a completely new topic without lecturing on it first. At class the next day, each student would list the problems that confused them and other students would go up to the board and explain how they solved the problem. Sometimes two different students solved the problems in completely different ways and both were given the opportunity to “teach” their way. Some students found this technique frustrating. They just wanted the teacher to teach them. But I discovered that I loved math when it was taught this way. It became my favorite class. I even looked forward to tests because I saw them as fun puzzles and I gained confidence when teaching the other students in my class.
Now as a preschool teacher, I notice myself focusing on social emotional learning. I encourage my class to solve their own peer to peer problems and I believe in the ability of very young children (even those who cannot talk yet) to learn from each other. I have come to embrace social learning as a key component of learning!

My second grade teacher helped us make bird houses out of wood and I remember him giving us such great responsibility with tools and our safety, that’s what I want to impart to the kiddos… the ability to use the tools they have in a safe way to empower themselves. Small but mighty!

Others shared negative experiences that never-the-less influenced how they teach their students:

My anecdote has a slightly negative feeling, but it has influenced how I have come to grow as both a person and an educator. When I was in my junior year in high school, we were “required” to go to the Junior Ethics Seminar. I did not want to go. Not because I was just some kid who wanted a day off from school, but because I didn’t think my teacher or my school had any place in teaching me about ethics-beyond what they are-that was my mother’s job.
When I brought this to the attention of my teacher, my view and how I felt, he responded that I would “go to the seminar or go to in-school suspension and have to write a 10-page college level APA style paper about ethics.” Well, I’ve never been one to anything by half measures and to show how serious I was-I wrote that paper. I didn’t just regurgitate definitions and anecdotes, I went to people and asked questions. I confronted strangers and friends asking: “How do you feel about teaching children ethics in schools?” I made sure to pull from as diverse a group of people as possible. From a single mother, to a Catholic father of five, to a professor at George Mason University. I wrote about as many points of views as I could find.
I turned in my paper, proud of what I had seen in my research. Maybe my opinion hadn’t entirely changed, but learning how others felt, opened my eyes a bit more. When I received my grade for the assignment, there was a giant red F in the center of it. My teacher had torn it apart based solely on the opinions of these people I had interviewed, and not a single red mark was there about the myriad of facts on which I had expounded. I swore to myself at the time I would never become a teacher.
Fast-forward almost 20 years later and here I am teaching toddlers. Every single day I think about how I am presenting information to my students and how what I will say can impact them and their families and their future ambitions. I work hard to give them the vocabulary they need to be able to question everything.

Several SEEC educators recalled specific activities from their time in school that has stuck with them throughout the years:

I always remember a science experiment I did in third grade about decomposition. One day at the start of the school year the class set aside some of their lunch, and we put the food in some panty hose and let it rot underground for a year. It was so cool digging it up later in the spring!

I remember working in teams to move around Mesopotamia in a history class. The activity was coordinated by the teacher, but our decisions facilitated the way the play happened. Also, it was a play driven history activity.

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SEEC teachers as children.

Many shared memories of teachers that helped build their confidence to follow their interests:

I remember a language arts teacher who encouraged my writing in a very positive way and helped me enter writing contests that year. I won the short story contest for the whole junior high and I think that is what made me start truly believing that I could be an author someday and started me down that path. Not there yet, but here’s hoping.
When I was in 3rd grade I had an art teacher, Mr. Leobroski, who had a passion for art and teaching people about how important art is to growing the mind. He always welcomed us into his huge art studio ready to introduce us to artists like Elizabeth Catlett, Romer Bearden and Van Gogh just to name a few. I will never forget when we spent a few weeks learning about sculptures and Alexander Calder.
When we had a chance at the end of the unit to create our own sculptures with various media, I remember feeling really upset because my cat didn’t look like a cat to my classmates. Mr. L (as we lovingly called him) took notice and came over to see why I seemed unfocused. When I shared my frustration with him, he reminded me that with art it’s all about perspective; that my idea of a cat might not be the same as others but that doesn’t mean that it’s not a cat. It’s my work and it’s not about acceptance from others but about expressing myself. He was the reason I feel in love with art 28 years ago.

Others remembered teachers for their passion:

My music instructor during my middle school years, stands as one of my most memorable educators throughout my life. Her level of passion, care, and determination remains an inspiration for my approach to teaching and learning.

A few SEEC educators listed their colleagues as some of the most influential teachers in their careers, highlighting the importance of peer support and collaboration:

When I was in my first year of teaching, an experienced teacher who was about to retire reached out to me with support and resources. She invited me to her school, gave me supplies for my Title I classroom, and even invited me over for dinner. It was just one of the countless times a fellow teacher reached out to me when I was learning how to adjust to my first year of teaching! This has influenced me to make sure I am always doing the same for others!

Being constantly surrounded by educators who produce great work (in various ways) but also love what they do has impacted me as a teacher. It allows me the chance to stop and think through lessons I’m teaching, ways I can manipulate it, and how much love I’m giving back to each individual student.

Do you have a memorable experience from your time in school? Please share with us in the comments and be sure to check back for our continued celebration of Teacher Appreciation Week!