This week we welcome guest columnist Erin Page (Albaugh) Anderson, fifth grade teacher at Tennerton Elementary School in Buckhannon. She is a 20-year veteran teacher and Upshur County Schools’ Teacher of the Year. She currently serves as secretary of Faculty Senate, mentor for the Mileage Club, and cooperating teacher for student teachers.
Being recognized as Upshur County Teacher of the Year after 20 years...and while working at Tennerton...is an incredible feeling. I walked the same halls and sat in the same classrooms as my students. As a young girl back in the 1980s, when I dreamed of being a teacher, I always pictured myself at Tennerton because it is such a special place to me.
Now more than ever, I have such an admiration for my coworkers who each have a unique part in shaping our students. If we think of an elementary student as a giant puzzle, EVERYONE—secretaries, aides, cooks, custodians, bus drivers, teachers, the principal—everyone has pieces that they place or lock in for each student. Some put more pieces in the puzzle. Some put in less. Some put the crucial outside and corner pieces in. Some find the “hard to place” pieces and put those in. As a fifth-grade teacher, I find it both challenging and rewarding to place the final pieces of that elementary student before we send them off to the middle school.
If you’ve seen me this summer, you’ve seen my energy firsthand. I’ve been excited about food delivery and seeing our kids and families along the bus route! The Teacher of the Year competition has certainly heightened my excitement. And yes, I’m even “excited” in a challenging, scary, but bring-it-on kind of way for the upcoming school year.
If only energy and excitement were as contagious as a virus.
To the staff of Upshur County Schools, I want you to remember three things as we head into what is set to be the hardest, most crucial year of our careers.
First, know your kids and make sure they know you know them. It’s always worth your time to spend time with your students. I believe the in-between times are what define a teacher—the seemingly simple conversations with kids are what matter most: taking the time to listen when a student is telling you a story or about a problem he/she is having at home or with a friend; following up with that same student the next day or week over lunch or an after-school walk; giving a high five or a hug or genuine praise when you see a student meet a goal. Letting a child know that you’re never too busy for them is truly where you make a difference. It’s not always easy, but it’s always worth it. There’s a quote that has stuck with me for years that says students won’t always remember what you taught them, but they’ll always remember how you made them feel.
Secondly, keep in mind, we’re not being asked to do MORE than we usually do, just to do it in a DIFFERENT way. You never know what you’re capable of until you try! (Sounds like something we’d say to kids, right?) In the days leading up to school, I have witnessed our staff coming together to collaborate, learn, and practice for in-person, remote, and virtual learning. I have witnessed our administrators and board employees presenting new (and always changing) information. I have witnessed support for school staff unlike anything I’ve ever seen in my 20 years.
Finally, give yourself GRACE. If the goal for our kids is to become lifelong learners, we have to show them that we too can continue to learn and grow and change even when it’s hard or uncomfortable. We’re not robots, and teaching is hard work. We’re human. Forgive yourself, ooze patience, don’t compare yourself to other teachers, be yourself, have fun, laugh, be vulnerable, let your students see you learning/listening/asking questions.
I wish you the best of luck this year! Thank you for showing up…and never giving up on your students. Teaching is not following a script or teaching to a test. Teaching is not policies or your political stance. Our students don’t care about that. Teaching is connections. Teaching is personal.