The essay below was part of my submission when I was nominated as a semifinalist in the local “teacher of the year” event. It was an honor to be nominated and to take time to reflect on my joy in teaching.


My joy in teaching comes from helping others make their world a better place whether I am facilitating learning of critical thinking or kindness in my 4th grade classroom, tutoring a student, brainstorming creative classroom uses of free and existing technology with my fellow teachers, introducing my coworkers to a healthy lunch bunch, motivating my daughters to exercise by completing a triathlon, guiding my mom to bridge the miles with her siblings by learning to Facebook, bonding with high schoolers in the church youth group on Wednesday nights, hosting “coffeehouse” nights with 45+ high school kids at my house, challenging young moms at church to keep family a priority while finding balance in all their life activities, sharing with my friends new ideas I found in Popular Mechanics, Wired, or Real Simple magazine, or maintaining a blog and track out cart of useful resources to share with others. I am energized when someone discovers the confidence, resources, or knowledge they need.

I do not settle for average. I often look to change up my teaching with new programs or materials (such as Daily 5) that emphasize true and tried methods. Student need to depend on classroom structures that foster accountability for learning, cooperation, and materials. Students know that I have high expectations for them, and they rise to meet them. I expect my teaching environment to have respect, compassion, cooperation, and a sprinkling of silliness (have you seen my Starbucks crown and power bands?!). On my wall is a large banner that reads “prove it” to remind us over and over again to try to explain, evaluate and reason our way through academic discussions, proof in the text in literature circles and written essays, valid arguments for whose answer is correct in math or social studies, personal and playground disagreements, science labs, and whether or not you can use the Benq projector interactive pen to draw mustaches on people at the board during team time (you can!).  Teaching my students to “prove it” also means teaching them to accept differences of opinions and learn to say “I’m sorry I was wrong” if necessary. Knowledge is power, and wisdom is using that knowledge well. These skills are useful in the classroom, in the home, and in the boardroom.

Teaching 21st century students makes me spend hours googling ways to do things easier and simpler with the technology we have so that the rest of our time can be spent creating, wondering, learning, and even trying to produce new resources such as a digital realia wall for science and social studies that will reduce the gap created by the wide range of reading levels. It means sharing ideas on methods and materials to work smarter not harder. There are so many ideas I want to try out! Taking the risk to try new things as a teacher makes me just as much of a student as those in my classroom. If I tell them I’m trying out a new program or idea, they encourage me, problem solve with me, and let me take risks that might end up in failure or success without adding a grade to my attempts. I learn so much from them! I hope that they see me encouraging them to take risks, to try new ideas, to work on mastery even if the road is long, and to better the world around them. Every year is a new adventure, and I’m thrilled with how much I have learned! It’s not the paycheck or the new evaluation tool that motivates me, it’s the students and their “ah ha” moments.