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Virginia Journal of Education

Your Classroom

Once a Teacher, Always a Teacher

By Kathy Sydnor

“Hi, Ms. Sydnor!” or “Hi! Ms. Sydnor?” These definitive title-plus-last-name greetings, with varying inflections, always cause a feeling of special excitement, especially for me as a retired teacher. I know immediately that a former student or someone from my school days is speaking to me. 

An active teacher experiences this emotion as well. She hears the first version with its amazement at seeing a teacher out of the classroom—because she never leaves school, you know. The second version emphasizes disbelief that a teacher does actually go to Food Lion or Giant, the mall or an auto repair shop—because she’s not a normal person, you know. 

The pleasure of these small reminders of my life as a teacher got me to thinking of other examples which reinforce that once a teacher, always a teacher. For instance, this time of year I’m reminded of my unique mindset by the possibilities of snow or snow days, which set off emotions ranging from hopefulness and ecstasy to wariness and disappointment. Even though the decision to delay or close schools will essentially not affect me, I remain as invested as when I had a personal interest in the outcome. I empathize with my anxiety-ridden colleagues and am jubilant or depressed on their behalf. My snow hopes never go away.

Another eternal teacher indicator (perhaps a little eccentric) is my reaction to a red pen or red ink—or even to what I call “colorful” ink. When I see an adult using a scarlet letter-maker, I automatically conclude she’s most likely a teacher trying to keep up with or catch up on scoring schoolwork. Just picking up a red pen takes me back to my focused, grading mode and makes me want to write a grammatical hint or draw a smiley face! Moreover, whenever such pens are on sale, I’m tempted to buy, well, let’s say, enough to have one always available.

I also have an irresistible urge to check out and participate in back-to-school sales on school supplies. Given how much of their own money practicing teachers spend on such items, I believe my response is normal. For example, upon finding glitter spiral notebooks for markdown prices at (of all places) the grocery store, I want to indulge in now unnecessary purchases. The satisfaction of saving money on fans of plastic pens, packs of perfectly ruled (college and regular) notebook paper, and pocketed folders in prismatic colors is only one reason I want to plunk down some of my VRS funds. Another is that doing so rekindles that beginning-of-the-school-year feeling with its appreciation for a new and fresh start which returns every fall without fail.

The autumnal Siren song of these sales coincides with another August event:  the before-school-opens trial runs of school buses on their routes, followed by their regular appearance in September. Such sightings take me back to my own, long ago bus-riding days, then transport me to days of watching the buses line up via perfect synchronized driving and to a few days of field trips—basically, the bus sightings of active educators. Ultimately, I’m brought back to current scenes of a bus going at its regulated speed on a highway or stopped to pick up or let off students. Ah, that huge yellow vehicular symbol is ever powerful.

The next evocative connection is another September event:  Labor Day, which is significant in many ways. Some see it as the unofficial closing of swimming pools. Others view it as the fashion deadline beyond which one should not wear white. However, for most of my life, I’ve associated this three-day weekend/official government holiday with the start of another school year. As a student and especially as a teacher, the first Monday in September has long caused conflicting feelings of grief—over the end of summer with its generally unscheduled days—and of celebration—of the opportunities, new relationships and potential accomplishments on the way. Even now, I get OBD (Optimistic Blues Disorder), and I’ll bet many on-the-job teachers do, too.

Something else that can make me blue is talk about teachers—student teachers, supervising teachers, mentor teachers, regular teachers, special teachers, career teachers, retired teachers, new teachers, old teachers, teacher teachers. When it’s constant criticism, I want to explain (not complain, as my older sister says) and discuss (not fuss, as the same sister says). Likewise, when I hear teachers being acknowledged and (finally) praised, I smile—not even secretly. Like the teachers in the trenches, I still take personally what others say about my profession and colleagues, and I suppose I always will.

Finally, I recently realized a particular “teachery” response that I hadn’t previously recognized. It may have come with retirement’s time for reflection, or maybe it’s just my imagination’s way of working now that it isn’t being inspired every day by encounters with students. I’ve begun noticing that when I meet someone new, such as medical specialists for my mother, I start to picture what the adult must’ve been like as a student. For example, her pulmonologist has a sort of nerdily crazy look in his eyes. On our first visit, he drew sketches of the lungs, heart, stomach, etc., on the rolled-out paper that protects the examination chair. Later, he reappeared with his tie loosened, as if this change had allowed a little hyperactivity to escape. I wondered if he had been a mad-scientist student who illustrated his class notes and composition rough drafts, then appeared at the end of a long day just to say good-bye until tomorrow. When I met my mother’s bright-eyed, sincerely smiling oral surgeon, he erupted in visual and vocal laughter, positivity and encouragement as well as excellence in extracting teeth.  I wished I had had him as a student in some class from my past. Do teachers always guess what kind of student a grown-up was? It makes sense since our work with a student influences what kind of grown-up he or she becomes.

Maybe it’s a teacher thing, too, that we derive some satisfaction from believing we are and were influential. When unseen sources exclaim greetings to teachers, we’re reminded indirectly that we do and did matter, even outside school settings. I’ll admit that such an occasional acknowledgment of my work makes me feel undeniably pleased. Someone remembers me, doesn’t try to avoid me in the halls of life and the world, and still wants to say hello. It doesn’t get any better, and it’s comforting to know that—for a teacher—it’ll always be this good!    

Sydnor is a retired lifetime member of the NEA and VEA.  She was a member of the King George Education Association for her entire 31-year career.


Classroom Management: The Top Five

Based on a review of 150 studies over the last 60 years, the National Center on Teacher Quality says these are the five most important research-based strategies for classroom management to teach aspiring teachers:

• Rules. Establish and teach classroom rules to communicate expectations for behavior.
• Routines. Build structure and establish routines to help guide students in a wide variety of situations.
• Praise. Reinforce positive behavior, using praise and other means.
• Deal with misbehavior. Consistently impose consequences for misbehavior.
• Engage your students. Foster and maintain student engagement by teaching interesting lessons that include opportunities for active student participation.



Test Grade

A student will take 34 standardized exams between third grade and high school graduation as part of the commonwealth's Standards of Learning testing program. The results help assess individual achievement and offer a useful metric to determine children's progress.

While that data helps address the need for accountability in public schools, its emergence as the most important quantitative measure of educational success is deeply flawed. Virginia needs its graduates ready to pursue college or careers and it is critical that the testing in place moves the commonwealth toward that goal.

 --from an editorial in the (Newport News) Daily Press


Education is Good Business

When public schools and local businesses form partnerships and people from both places interact more, great things happen in our communities and local economies:

• When students are exposed to parts of the local working world, they experience a wider range of contexts and learning styles, as well as learning about life in the workplace. In addition, they get up-to-date knowledge from what they see there and real, work-related examples to help them learn.

• Young people learn the value of community when they gain perspectives from beyond the classroom.

• Public schooling benefits our communities. When teachers and schools partner with local businesses, students can expand their interests and learn needed lessons and skills for success at the right jobs.

• The educational experience in both the school and the workplace get a boost, ensuring the most productive and comprehensive education for our students.

• Eventually, as members of the local workforce reach higher levels of educational attainment, local businesses and organizations reach higher levels of productivity.


Hit the Road: Travel Opportunities for Educators

Global Exploration for Educators Organization (GEEO) is a nonprofit that runs summer professional development travel programs designed for teachers.

GEEO is offering the following travel programs for 2014: India/Nepal, Italy, Portugal/Spain, Amalfi Coast, Greece, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Thailand/Laos, Cambodia, China, Russia/Mongolia/China, Turkey, South Africa/Mozambique/Zimbabwe/Botswana, Morocco, Australia, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Peru, and the Galapagos Islands. Registration deadline is June 1st, but space is limited.

You also have the option to earn graduate school and professional development credit, while on the trips, which range from 8 to 24 days. GEEO provides teachers with educational materials to help bring their experiences back to the classroom. 

Detailed information about each trip, including itineraries, costs, travel dates and more can be found at


Some Good Resolutions for the New Year

This is part of a resolution dealing with Virginia’s SOL testing program passed by the York County School Board in late 2013:

NOW THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the School Board of York County, Virginia, calls on the Virginia General Assembly to reexamine Virginia public school assessments and the system of accountability for which they form the basis and to improve the current accountability system so that it encompasses balanced assessments, reflects greater validity, uses more cost efficient sampling techniques and other external evaluation arrangements, allows for expedited test retakes, and more accurately reflects what students know, appreciate and can do in terms of the rigorous standards essential to their success, enhances the role of teachers as designers, guides to instruction and leaders, and nurtures the sense of inquiry and love of learning in all students.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT THE School Board of York County, Virginia calls on its Superintendent, principals, teachers and others staff members to help students master the content and skills of the curriculum by continuing to promote the joy of teaching and learning with a focus on deep, meaningful, transformative learning, rather than an over-emphasis on just covering content that can be easily assessed by standardized tests.

 The Washington Post reported that some 30 Virginia school boards had passed similar resolutions by the end of October.

This is an excerpt from a resolution passed by the Virginia Beach School Board as part of its observance of American Education Week:

WHEREAS, the Virginia Education Association has been a leader and advocate in promoting the education of all children in Virginia since 1863.

WHEREAS, the accomplishments of the Association and its members include required school attendance, the formation of high schools, the creation of kindergarten programs, the expansion of the curriculum, a ban on corporal punishment, a Code of Ethics for teachers, the protection of job rights for educators, and the creation of a pension plan for educators,

NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED: That the School Board of the City of Virginia Beach hereby recognizes the Virginia Education Association on the occasion of its 150th anniversary; and be it

FURTHER RESOLVED: That the Clerk of the Board is directed to forward a copy of this resolution to the Virginia Education Association and the Virginia Beach Education Association as an expression of gratitude for their valuable contributions to public education in the Commonwealth.



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