By Zemen Marrugi, M.Ed.
That moment will forever hold a special place in my heart because it had made me proud of reaching my goal and having my name outside my first classroom made it all surreal. I had finally made it! I was now Ms. Marrugi, Homeroom Teacher.
Since that August morning in 2007, the enthusiasm about preparing my classroom has continued to grow and I still find joy in decorating themed bulletin boards every month and making positive phone calls home, reminding parents of the special potential that exists within their child.
Over the years, I have been blessed with countless amounts of homemade cards, teacher paraphernalia, and gifts, big and small, from my students, their parents and family members. They have surprised me with delicious red apples on my desk, a slice of cake from their siblings’ birthday parties from the weekend before and have gone out of their way to collect the most random purple items for me since they know it is my favorite color.
I stayed after hours, preparing the perfect lesson and came up with the most imaginative way to introduce a topic that most people would describe as dry and tiresome. From fractions to Ancient Rome, economics and learning how to make inferences-all lessons were important and I treated them as such. To this day, my students do not know if I have a least favorite subject because when I present a topic, regardless of my personal feelings towards the subject or how intimidated I might feel about teaching the material, I always present the curriculum with excitement. I use colorful and weird props because I know that the students will find them amusing.
Over time, some of my peers have shared my passion about the floor decorating contest and the reading month festivities and they, too, joined me in wearing silly costumes and made a fool of themselves-all in the name of teaching. Others were not be as encouraging as comments about me being an “over-achiever” tried to discourage my sense of joy about my job as a teacher.
When I decided to begin teaching Middle School, I heard various comments about the pre-teens not being as interested in the “creative stuff,” but that could not be any further from the truth. My sixth graders enjoyed glitter just as much as my fourth graders did. Beginning the lesson with a silly anticipatory set or using incentives like having lunch with the teacher and greeting them with a smile and a handshake every morning were not just things appreciated by elementary students. Moving to sixth grade also reminded me that every student, regardless of age and grade level, may still be in need of drastic academic intervention.
The life of a teacher is a daily rollercoaster filled with the good, the bad and the ugly memories. During the summer, I wait with anticipation, imaging how the year would play out by the following June. I welcomed new students in September and by November, I knew so much about each student’s family and academic history that you would think I had been in their lives for years. I have laughed my heart out as they shared funny stories about family members and cried my eyes out when I heard of tragedies connected to one of the angels in my class that had mistakenly called me mom on numerous occasions.
One of the hardest moments of my life was when I was reminded of how cruel life can be and no amount of tissue or comfort could ease the pain in my heart as I saw one of my precious angels lying peacefully in a casket. When I started my teaching career, I knew I wanted to make a difference in the lives of the students in my classroom, but I did not realize on how much they were truly going to impact my life. The compassion that my students have demonstrated have restored my faith in humanity and when I think of all the baggage they carry as they face another school day, the definition of perseverance becomes a little more clear to me.
Thoughts of how to improve a lesson for next year’s students are always on my mind as I add new concepts to my personal collection of perfect lesson plans. Whether on vacation or surfing Pinterest, I save, pin, like and share random ideas that I know my students can benefit from in my classroom. Snapshots of decorated doors, workshop stations and class agendas fill my phone’s storage capacity because I know that in spite of how successful this year’s students were, my next class will need just as much care, if not even more.
To my fellow educators, I encourage you to keep the following three things in mind every morning as you walk into your classroom:
1) All students have the ability to learn and with proper academic assistance, differentiated instruction and rigorous assessment, each and every one of them will achieve academic success. Stop blaming it on the lack of parental participation, stop blaming it on the lack of supplies and resources and stop blaming it on the politicians that have no idea what you go through on a daily basis. You decided to become a teacher because you knew they needed you and although the decision did not come with a warning label, you still need to be your students’ biggest supporter and the driving force that will make the difference in their lives.
2) Every lesson can be interesting if the teacher takes the time to make it so. Sometimes, all it takes is a hat or a silly change of accent to get the students engaged in a lesson. Get creative! Get creative! Get creative! Most importantly, you have to let students think that you enjoy teaching every subject, every lesson, and every topic that is on the lesson plan, even if that is not the case because your sense of respect and enthusiasm towards the curriculum will rub off on them.
3) Learning is fundament, even for teacher! From first year teachers that are fresh out of college to the veteran professionals that have been in the field for decades, learning is always going to take place in the classroom for the students and their instructor. The more accepting you are of construction criticism, the better the teacher you will become for your students. Put all pride aside and know that even the most skilled craftsmen are always ready to improve their techniques.
For my parting words of wisdom, I just want every reader to remember that these words are not just my own, but they lay keep in every teacher’s heart. We selected this profession because we want to play a small, yet vital role in reshaping the future. From coast to coast, in classrooms of five to five hundred, from pre-kindergarten to college level courses, we commit our lives to being a positive reminder to students of all ages that regardless of where they come from and what they may have experienced in their lives, all things are possible if they just work a little harder at excelling academically.