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Ode to Teachers

“Relationships before rigor, grace before grades, patience before programs, love before lessons.” —Dr. Brad Johnson.

Dr. Johnson is one of the most dynamic and engaging speakers in the fields of education & leadership. This one statement that he made has encompassed pandemic teaching.

Last March, as educators were thwarted with an incomprehensible task of teaching via a digital platform, all of us teachers questioned if we could measure up to this task?

Now, 15 months later, I feel like every educator has earned a badge of honor. . . they have done the impossible, they have climbed Mount Everest, they have been faced with lions pawing at their door, they have learned a foreign language, they have been wounded. . . and with each hurdle WE did it with grace.

Erin Iler teaching from her shed during pandemic learning. Photo by Madison October

I hear this so often, “How do you do this? How are you still teaching and how do you manage your own family?”

Honestly, I don’t know how I am doing it. But, what drives me is that I am not only an educator, I am a parent. I know what I want for my own children when they meet their teacher each year. As a parent, I hope each year that my children will flourish and be met with grace, patience, and love from their teacher. I want my children to learn common core standards, but more importantly I want them to learn life lessons, how to find their voice, and how to make real connections with others.

The art of teaching is not a learned skill. It is a craft that has to be honed by each individual who has taken on this life calling. I decided to think back on the educators that influenced my life when growing up.

I can still remember certain teachers that stand out in my mind. Preschool. . . I stood in the kitchen area hiding from the other children. I remember crying and missing my mom. Mrs. Hagel sat down next to me and began to pretend to make eggs and bacon. She slowly earned my trust and I realized this person was kind. That same day I met my lifelong friend, in the same cooking area. She stood up for me when other kids were trying to boss me around. Brandie still gives me pep talks to this day, 39 years later! I learned how to make a friend that first day and begin my independence.

Years later, Mrs. Mc Guire, my 6th grade teacher introduced me to the world of theater and literature. I am now a lifelong theater lover and will always remember eating my first piece of fruitcake at Christmas when we read “The Christmas Carol.”

Ms. Le Sage who introduced me to the Amazon Rainforest and allowed me to paint the windows of the classroom (when I did my 8th grade project of recreating the rainforest.) This spurred me into my college journalism project of traveling to Brazil and my passion to stop deforestation.

My high school senior English teacher who told me that my writing was not up to par for college honors classes. Yes, there is the good and the bad of my educational career.

That one teacher made me question my passion for writing, my love for literature, and diminished my confidence to apply for certain college programs.

However, the story doesn’t end there. I took a basic 101 Journalism class my first year of college and midway through the semester, my professor asked me if I had ever considered writing for a publication? Dr. Keeler saw my passion for writing and gave me the chance to truly hone my skills as a writer. That one question he asked me catapulted me into the world of journalism, writing, becoming the editor of my College Magazine, and 20 years later writing a blog.

Words are so powerful. They can be uplifting and they can be cutting. It just depends how they are used. The teachers that came to my mind were the teachers who affected my persona, not just influencing my GPA.

Art by Kim Gero- talented educator and artist.

As we celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week, I wonder if we really have thought about the influence that educators have on our lives.

Which teachers came to mind as you read this post? Have you let them know the impact they have had on your life? Writing a note, messaging them, or even surprising them with a picture of you all grown up will brighten their day. After all, we are still learning and growing, years after we have moved out of their classrooms.

I have found that my greatest moments in learning was when a teacher showed me my strengths, displayed peace in the learning environment, encouraged me to take a risk, and in the end, I found joy in my new skills. Take a moment this week and give thanks for the teachers that challenged your thinking, helped you with your mindset, and gain confidence in yourself.

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