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Virginia Journal of Education

On Point

Staying Motivated After All These Years

By Afreen Yusuf Gootee

Twenty-six years is a long time to be in the same “industry.” These days, not many people stay in the same job for that long—take a look around, you just don’t see it. But we educators are a different breed; many of us who started decades ago are still here.

What makes us stay? Commitment to our profession and our students, love of the job itself, security, many things. Another thing that makes me stay is professional growth—my effort to be a better teacher each year. 

Some people can teach the same grade, the same subjects, in the same school for decades. When that’s the case, we need to find ways to keep ourselves from stagnating. Best practices in education have changed considerably in the last several years and it’s important to keep up with developments in our field. Doing what we always did will not inspire today’s youth.

This summer, I attended the National Education Association convention in Atlanta. There, I went to the NEA Human and Civil Rights Awards Dinner where our Association honored the accomplishments of several educators and community leaders. As I watched videos and listened to speeches, I wondered what made the award winners so extraordinary. How did they reach their students on a level that I had not? Could I do the same things they had done? Could I motivate my students and help them excel to levels beyond their imaginations? I would certainly like to, I think I could, but I don’t know. For years, I wanted to be that amazing teacher that movies and books were made and written for and now, four years away from retirement, I’m planning to strive to make this my year! 

I also took a class this summer, right after my return from Atlanta. Given by Richmond’s Holocaust Museum, it focused on the terrible mistreatment of the Jews by Hitler’s forces during World War II. It was a very intensive, week-long class, requiring us to read three books, write four journal entries, and create three extensive lesson plans. Aside from the work, the topic, of course, was very thought-provoking.  One thing I learned in that class was that I could achieve “greatness” in my work if I really put my mind to it. My first journal entry was not that hard to write but each subsequent one became more difficult. At first I wasn’t sure I could write well enough to get an A on each, but I found I was up to the challenge. The fact that the teachers who read our work made such positive comments really helped!

When it was time to write the lesson plans, I needed to include many different accommodations and adaptations. This was very challenging but once again, I worked to do my very best. I think I know how my students feel when they’re faced with challenges, and now I feel better prepared to help them meet those challenges.   

I also applied to NEA’s Master Teacher program in an effort to become a better teacher. It was a way to keep me on my toes and keep me creative all year. Students are constantly keeping up with the latest technology and gadgets, and this was my way of doing the same.

I very much want to motivate my students. I teach in an alternative education school, where most of the students come to me as a result of a long-term suspension from their home schools. Others are there to improve their grades or get caught up to their appropriate grade level. Inspiring them is not always easy—it takes a lot to convince these students of the importance of education. But I plan on making connections on broader levels, in all subject areas, and stepping outside of my comfort zone with new technological advances. Here’s looking forward to an exceptional year for my students and me!

Gootee is president of the Hanover Education Association.


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