Pride in teaching and in students

I have always been proud of teachers. Since my beginnings in the career, and reflecting back on my time as a student, I hold teachers as professionals in their craft akin to lawyers or doctors or CEOs. I and my fellow teachers have one of the most important jobs to do in order to keep a community aware and functioning and to help grow individuals in ways they find relevant to their upcoming adult lives. It is an amazing task that I am proud to be a part of every day. 

For five years, I have been focused on becoming the most professional, most effective teacher I could be. I arrive at school early, work through lunch, and stay late refining lessons, grading with meaningful feedback, and generally working to make my class periods and assignments as coherent as can be. I take great pride in my work ethic to better myself as a professional.

Yet, it has taken me the better of five years to extend that pride into what my students do every day. As a teacher in high school, there will always be distractions to this emotion. Teenagers will always be deficient in ways that may frustrate teachers: they are distracted, they are ignorant, they deal with issues that pull their thoughts away from the tasks I expect them to complete and comprehend on a daily basis. But, this is a teacher’s duty–to reach out and teach these students despite of and in the face of these complications.

Listen in on any teacher meeting and, in my experience, and these issues will be on the tongues of those present. Teachers, myself included, get hung up on what students can’t or won’t do, instead of first stating what they can do, what they are doing, and what we as teachers should be commending them for. 

For example, as I was spending my lunch hour picking up the pieces of the morning lessons and adjusting plans for the next day, the editors of the school newspaper for which I am an adviser came in during their lunch hour to plan. This was a group of students willingly giving up their sacred lunch time to attend to something they took pride in. They worked, laughed, and analyzed as they sifted through the articles written so far for our latest edition. Notecards were written and moved about the planning bulletin board as they discussed what articles should be featured on the front paged and made notes to what articles have yet to be written in order to report back to the class. It was truly an amazing event in a school setting. 

But at the time, I just sat behind my desk, oblivious to what was happening in my room. I graded. I brooded. I thought about tomorrow in the context of today’s mishaps. I trusted them to do a good job and paid them no mind.

The editors finished their work, happy with what they had accomplished and it wasn’t until I got home, thought through two or three more pedagogical conundrums that had irked me throughout my day, made dinner, and put my infant daughter to bed that I reflected on this event: students who wanted to take ownership of a task were taking pride in their work. And this realization filled ME with pride, and a bit of humility that I couldn’t stop to recognize the greatness that was happening right in my own classroom just hours before. 

Paramount to all the work teachers put in to make themselves an effective instructor and instrument of learning, teachers have to open their eyes to the positives students exhibit daily. We must take pride in the successes of our students and let them know that we value them and their work. It could be something as relevant and large as planning the school newspaper or as small as reading quietly for ten minutes. This type of feedback, immediate feedback, is just as important in my mind as knowing what questions students got wrong on a quiz or where a comma really goes in a sentence. 

Pride is not a passive emotion. It’s closer to joy than happiness, but it’s a joy that is best when shared explicitly. People value being valued. I take pride in my students noticing I am a hard-working teacher. All students should know that I take pride in the things they do, however small those things may seem in the sea of hormones, distraction, and memes that is high school.