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Virginia Journal of Education


Why we do what we do

Our readers talk about their motivations and what they hope to accomplish this year.

To kick off the new school year, we asked readers to answer one or both of the following questions:

• Why do you choose to do the work you do?

• What do you hope to accomplish this year?

We were inspired by their responses. Here’s a sampling:


No Other Job Offers This
In what other profession are you in a position to work for positive change and have the privilege to develop and shape young minds? I view my subject area, music, as a great equalizer—giving hands-on access to various instruments, learning songs from around the world, opening the window to literacy through music literacy.

As I enter my 32nd year, I’m excited about getting a keyboard lab up and running in the music room, offering access for all students, making the opportunity of playing piano keyboard possible for many in my school who might otherwise never have the chance to do so. Our school's theme, “Today is an opportunity,” is something I translate into the start of a new school year: This year is an opportunity to reach and teach my students, and also be their voice and the voices of my colleagues through our local Association’s advocacy.
Vicki Petrovsky, Loudoun Education Association



You Matter!
This year, I will build positive relationships with colleagues, students and families. I want to be somebody who makes everybody feel like they’re somebody, and to help them embrace their own value in our school community. (I’m an assistant principal.)
Wanda Smith, Amherst Education Association


Jack-of-all-Trades
I teach because I wanted to be a mathematician, a scientist, a psychologist, an engineer, and countless other things. I could never decide what I wanted to be when I grew up. Then I walked into a classroom. Now I get to be all of those things and so much more, and I get to teach children how to love all of the possibilities in the world. I have the best job in the world.
Amelie Drake, Williamsburg/James City County Education Association


When the Light Comes On
Teaching is complex, demanding, deeply personal and intellectual work. But if you’ve ever witnessed a child struggle and then finally understand an elusive topic, you’ve felt the reward of not only student academic growth, but a real progress of the spirit and mind. And you know why I teach.
 
I don’t always measure my students’ success by the SOL, the final exam, or the unit test. I use a wide array of hard-to-measure indicators, like the student’s willingness to try something different, to stretch her thinking, and the willingness to work alongside another student, the willingness to share personal insights, and the willingness to persevere when the task becomes hard.

This year, I’ll continue to look for ways to transform the SOLs into authentic learning experiences my students will remember, and I’ll ask myself a couple of important questions: What can I do to help them live responsibly, learn empathy, use their manners, work well with others, and have fun while acquiring a passion and joy for learning?  And what can I do to stretch myself and to model for my students how to be a lifelong learner? 
Carol Bauer, York Education Association


Pedal to the Metal
I put the key in the car to begin one of those “I just can’t do this anymore” days. No more “directives,” no more “stop doing that and let’s try this now” strategy,” no more redundant forms with data that seems to go nowhere.  And then I remind myself of some well-worn envelopes in my pocketbook—notes and letters from students and parents. They tell me I made the difference; not the textbook, not the curriculum—but me, or rather my belief in them. Seems a rather odd place to keep them, in my pocketbook. But not really. I carry them all the time. They are my secret weapon for any point of the day when I feel that “drowning” coming on. I start the engine. I’ve got kids waiting—and that’s the best why I can imagine.
Christel Coman, Campbell County Education Association

                                                                                                 
That Crucial Difference
This may sound a bit like a cliché, but I went into teaching because I wanted to make a difference. With the overemphasis on test scores and the stress that creates for younger students, what keeps me going are the kids. Sometimes, we are the only stable thing in their lives, and each day, each minute, I still make a difference. All you have to do is look into the face of one of your students to know that what we do is important work. That is what keeps me teaching.

This year, I’m hoping to continue to refine my skills as a teacher and always put the student first.
Rebecca Jasman, Louisa County Education Association


Building on the Rock
I work as an instructional assistant in first grade because, as it has been said, a house built upon sand cannot stand. Education is the house of life and elementary education is the rock.

My goal this year is that every first grader will love school and never ever be left behind his or her potential—to me, that’s the moral meaning of "no child left behind." If that means every child is a "bubble child" needing intensive individual attention, so be it. It is immoral to single out a group of "bubble children" for special instruction in order to get them to an arbitrary passing level on a standardized test. That’s using children, and a prime example of the testing tail wagging the educational dog.
Tom Hartman, Richmond Education Association


Welcome to the Future!
I’m a K-5 computer resource specialist and I chose this work because a technology-driven world is our reality. I love working with teachers and students, helping them effectively utilize technology to accomplish their goals. I also enjoy watching children light up when they get to see their own work published online on our school website or on YouTube.

Because I work with both students and teachers, this year I’m setting a goal for each group. I want all 450+ students at my school to have the opportunity to create and publish online at least one technology project. My school will have 11 new staff members this year, so I plan to focus on working with each of them to make sure they know what technology is available in the building and to help them feel comfortable effectively using that technology in their classrooms.
Kaitlin Jensen, Virginia Beach Education Association


Tracking Their Progress
I choose to teach high school French because I love the French language and sharing it with others. My favorite memory was when a student looked at the French 1 book at the end of the year and said, "Remember when we couldn't read any of this? Now we know what most of it says. That's cool!"

This year, I hope to accomplish more proficiency-based assessments. I want learning to be meaningful and I want my students to see a real use for the language they’re learning. I want them to be put into different situations so that they can use the language to increase their proficiency while performing real world tasks. I want them to answer questions in French without having to first plan out their dialogue.
Chantel Kushner-Samuel, Education Association of Norfolk

I choose to teach high school French because I love the French language and sharing it with others. My favorite memory was when a student looked at the French 1 book at the end of the year and said, "Remember when we couldn't read any of this? Now we know what most of it says. That's cool!" This year, I hope to accomplish more proficiency-based assessments. I want learning to be meaningful and I want my students to see a real use for the language they’re learning. I want them to be put into different situations so that they can use the language to increase their proficiency while performing real world tasks. I want them to answer questions in French without having to first plan out their dialogue.



Find Your Voice
Teaching is not just about education. As a civics teacher, I emphasize to my students that they have a voice and it's okay to use it. I do this work to make a difference in the life of a child.

This year, I’d like to accomplish two things: First, I want to do a better job teaching my ELL students. I want to truly understand them and modify my curriculum to better serve their needs. Second, in my school division, I want to shed light on the unprofessional treatment of both employees and children when bullying happens in school.
Riley O’Casey, Prince William Education Association


Pay It Forward!
I was an at-risk child whose parents lived on the poverty line and didn’t value education. I was a difficult student until three of my high school teachers got together and decided I was more than I believed myself to be. One was my AP history teacher. Being a Virginian, I was under the illusion I knew all about history, and I did know a great deal. But I didn’t know it all, and Miss Waller taught me it was okay to admit that. She showed me that failing to know something is very different from failing as a person.  Mrs. Campbell was my journalism teacher. She trusted me enough to give me an expensive camera and let me roam the halls during seventh period, shooting photos for the student newspaper. She could tell if I was taking last minute shots before class was over and wasting time, or if I was really interested in the subject. It took half the year before I started putting a value on that trust. Finally, Mrs. McIvor was both my guidance counselor and the vice principal. She decided I was too smart to waste time and moved me from “ordinary classes” to all AP classes. And I was successful! She also pushed me to go to college. By the time high school was over I had enough scholarships to pay for 60 percent of my undergraduate degree.

These teachers were inspiring to me, and I’m a teacher because of them. I want to pay this forward. My profession means everything to me because I care about my students and my colleagues. Because I care I want to put my profession in the best light. My Association supports my calling and helps me support my students and my colleagues. 

This year, I’ll finish my term as president of my local Association, and I want to leave it in better shape than when I started. Most people see me as sweet and nice, but if I’m angry I’m very outspoken! And the disrespect coming in the direction of my local from our school board angers me. One practical way I’m working to make things better is to push to change the way our school board members are selected. Right now they’re appointed by our Board of Supervisors, but we’re circulating a petition for a ballot initiative to allow citizens to elect school board members.
Melanie Lewis, Amherst Education Association


Making It Happen Through the Association
As president of the Arlington Education Association, my goal, in the broadest terms, is to improve member optimism in their professional future here. I hope to accomplish this, with the dedicated and capable help of my Association leaders, by 1) successfully lobbying the School Board for a return to salary step increases, as well as cost of living adjustments; 2) working with county-wide committees to better involve teachers in planning professional development opportunities and testing schedules; 3) promoting fair and objective evaluation procedures with identifiable criteria for all member groups; 4) assuring all member concerns are heard, discussed and acted upon in a prompt and supportive manner; and 5) building our membership and organizational capacity through relevant information-sharing.
Gerry Collins, Arlington Education Association


Hope, Answers and Peace
I’m in Alternative Education, so some of my students have been long-term suspended or are in and out of correctional facilities. Others are two or more years behind their correct grade level and are here trying to catch up; others just don't fit in at their regular schools. I focus on academics about 30 percent of the time, with the other 70 percent spent counseling, supporting, redirecting, coaching, advising, sympathizing and empathizing on issues that no young person should have to deal with! I’m talking about drug addictions (of all kinds), incarceration of family members and themselves, social issues that weren't around when I was a kid, and a plethora of other things. What I hope to do is help my students find some answers and peace in a world that is very confusing to them, and to be someone to whom they can turn when times are tough.
Afreen Gootee, Hanover Education Association


What Goes Around…
I teach because I love young people, and I believe they can become responsible, productive citizens. All kids deserve to have positive role models who believe in them and hold them accountable. As a student in this county, I had a lot of amazing teachers. Many of them are now my colleagues, and they continue to support and mentor me.
Kari Joyner, Charlotte County Education Association


Progress is Beautiful
I’ve been an instructional assistant in an early childhood special education class for the past eight years, and I do it because I want to give back to children with special needs. We get students at two years old and most of them stay until they’re five. They have disabilities such as autism, developmental delays, and Down Syndrome, and during the first year most of them can't talk or make eye contact. By the end of their time with us, they’re saying complete sentences and interacting with one another. It’s well worth everything, even though the process at times is stressful.
Tonya Hutchinson, Hampton Education Association

 

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What Teachers Like—and Need

The reasons given in this article by Virginia teachers for choosing careers in the public schools are a pretty accurate reflection of teachers’ motivations across the nation. In the most recent Status of the American Public School Teacher, a survey done regularly by the NEA, these were the four top reasons given by teachers for their career choice:

1. A desire to work with young people. This has been the top response in the survey since NEA began taking it in the 1950s. It’s chosen somewhat more often by elementary school teachers than it is by middle and high school teachers.

2. The significance of education in our society. This reason, and the one that follows, have swapped the two and three positions periodically over the decades of the survey. Minority teachers mentioned this reason more often than white teachers did.

3. Interest in a particular subject area. Not surprisingly, this reason is given more by high school teachers than it is by middle and elementary school teachers.

4. The influence of an elementary or secondary school teacher in their own lives. Teachers under 30 mentioned this more frequently than their peers 50 and over did.

Other factors mentioned included the influence of family members, the promise of increased job security and the opportunity for a lifetime of self-growth, as well as the appeal of summer vacation.

Once teachers are settled into the classroom, what makes them feel most supported in their work? Here are the top six survey responses to that question:

1. Cooperative and competent teaching colleagues and mentors.

2. Help from administrators and specialists.

3. Personal characteristics, such as interest in teaching methods and in young people.

4. Quality materials, resources and facilities.

5. Quality professional development on both instruction and subject matter.

6. The school’s environment and organization, including the freedom to teach.
 


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