Thursday, May 15th, 2014...9:00 pm

Raising a Teacher

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Tonight I was on the stage for the fourth time in the last month, this time speaking to a huge audience of retiring teachers and their guests. Last week, my friend Meredith’s Listen to Your Mother essay made me think of all the villlages it takes to make us who we are. The line from her piece – “it takes a village to raise a mother” – has echoed throughout my week. I too need my village of mothers. And I’ve also needed my village of teachers. 

Thanks to all of you who have been and continue to be a part of my village. And, thanks, Meredith, for your words last week. 

Here’s the text of the speech I gave tonight (It’s long – bravo to any of you who make it the whole way through! I was asked to speak for 10 minutes.)

I am as much a product of public schools as a person can be. A school photographer first snapped my picture when I was six months old, sitting on the lap of my very proud father, a kindergarten teacher who had taken me along for his school photo. I used to line my dolls up to teach them lessons and when my younger brother was old enough to comply and not quite old enough to protest, I sat him down in my class and tutored him from math and reading workbooks recycled from my father’s classroom. My mother became an elementary school teacher when I was in middle school, though she had certainly been a teacher long before that. And almost every one of my aunts and uncles was a teacher or a principal. I used to tag along to my dad’s brother’s house for their evening coffee ritual and sit with my homework on the kitchen stools while my parents and my aunt who taught special education and my uncle who was an elementary school principal talked about their days, their students, their lesson plans. I knew teacher lingo like it was a second language.

I grew up in schools, with teachers and secretaries, custodians and administrators as my extended family.

And over the last fourteen years, as I’ve entered into my own teaching journey, I’ve realized that my own success has so much to do with all the individuals I’ve been lucky to know who showed me what it means to be an educator. I’ve realized that it takes a village to raise a teacher. And I have been so lucky to live and learn in a village always centered around school.

My village included two school secretaries who are responsible for so many of my childhood memories. I grew up in Connecticut where instead of welcoming the first cool breezes on Halloween as we do here in Texas, we wore layer upon layer under our costumes to survive the cold trip around the neighborhood. Almost exactly halfway around our circular path, we stopped at Lee’s house. She always had a huge smile and steaming mugs of hot chocolate ready for us. And on weekend nights when my parents went out, my brother and I were always beyond excited to see Nancy coming. She brought us a new book each time she babysat. Lee and Nancy were both front office secretaries who loved children as much as anyone could. I remember my dad always telling me how important these women were in his school. I knew they were among the nicest and when I started teaching I realized just how right he was, how every single person who works in a school is an essential part of making it work, of tending to the needs of the students, of making it possible for real learning to occur.

I spent countless hours at my father’s school, unpacking supplies, decorating bulletin boards, going on kindergarten field trips before I was even a kindergartener myself. Little did I know that these experiences would follow me to my own classroom one day. Westover School in Stamford, CT was my first village.

I started teaching fourteen years ago in a small town 30 miles outside of Boston, mass. And my village expanded even further.  One day I drove myself the 30 miles to work with water slushing in the back of my car. It had rained the night before and my old car had somehow flooded. I got to school that day and I was upset, tired, stressed about all that first year teachers stress about. Ray Carrigan came to my rescue. He took my keys, drove my car around to the back where he vacuumed all the water out with his shop vac. Ray was a custodian and there wasn’t a day that passed where he wasn’t taking care of me and the students in some large or small way. The teachers at my first school taught me so much, but most importantly, they showed me how to value myself as an educator and how to expect only the best from my students. Karen and Karen, Dennis and Steve, Kathleen and Maryellen (all but one of them are retired now)   were an integral part of my development as a teacher and even now I hear echoes of their advice. The Bromfield School was my second village.

Here in Austin, my village is large. I am so lucky to work with teachers who have shown me from day one that good teachers never stop learning. Tonight in the audience sits one of my biggest mentors, someone who is retiring still at the top of her game, someone I aspire to be like as my teaching career continues – Ginger Gannaway. When I first got to Crockett ten years ago, I was immediately struck by Ginger’s kindness, her willingness to share all that she had learned – her lessons, her handouts, her management strategies. But what struck me most and what I admire most about Ginger, is that she has never stopped wanting to learn. I am ever grateful that she is a part of my village.

Tonight as I look out at all of you, I can only imagine the huge impact you’ve had. Aside from these stories, I can remember every single one of my teachers’ names, from Miss McDowell in kindergarten to Mr. Lippman my senior English teacher. And I know your names are part of countless students’ stories and probably some future teachers stories too. You’ve been the ones to warm them up with hot chocolate and hope, to give them books and ignite a love of learning, to take them on field trips to expand their world. You’ve been the one to rescue them from stresses large and small, to show them that each and every one of them is a valuable part of our community. Students will remember that day you taught them to think for themselves, that day when you noticed they needed a little extra support, that day you celebrated the simplicity of who they were, the days you pushed them to see what they could really accomplish. When they tell those stories to their friends, to their family and one day to their own children, you will be remembered as a significant part of making them who they are. And just like we all know that our job is not over each day when the bell rings, I also know that a teacher’s impact is so much greater than 187 days of instruction, or the many years that we dedicate to the profession.

We say it takes a village to raise a child, and as teachers we know that is true. But I also know it takes a village to raise a teacher.

Thank you all for being a part of my village and for letting me be a part of yours. Thank you for your years of service to Austin’s students and best of luck in all of the exciting endeavors that await you in your new journey.

Raising A Teacher

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  • This is such a beautifully written tribute to your village, Sarah. I loved it. You have such a gorgeous voice. I’m humbled to think my words stayed with you. And I’m glad you and I now share a village! I also love the picture of you and Ginger. Hugs to you both. I’m missing our little community already. Fabulous speech!

  • What an amazing tribute to both Ginger and the teaching community. Love this.
    Leigh Ann recently posted…communication. or something.My Profile

  • Oh, I love this, Sarah! Such a wonderful tribute to all of your villages and to the power and impact of educators. Wish I could have seen you in person – looking forward to the video!
    Kimberly recently posted…24 Days to GoMy Profile

  • Blessed to have many many great teachers in my life I now take care of a teacher’s son who will be two about Thanksgiving-time. It’s great fun to listen to her talk about her days with the Art and Photog students; I’m transported back to when my own mom substitute taught in our elementary school in the 60s.

    Thank you for this wonderful reprint of your speech; you did well.
    Lynda M Otvos recently posted…Back Into the School Year Swing of ThingsMy Profile

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