Friday, January 21, 2011

When God speaks...

...You should listen.  I recently posted about priorities (and I still mean every word) and wouldn't you know it - something else has fallen into my lap that has made me shift my choices again.

This year, teaching has been particularly difficult.  My motivation has lacked and I feel like I'm giving less than my best.  Students do NOT deserve this, even those that have no desire to be in school.  At the very least, their teacher should want to be there, and there were days I was struggling with simply showing up.  In fact, so much so that I toyed with changing levels at the end of this school year.  I thought maybe moving to the middle school would be easier to deal with - less chance of being cussed out on Facebook from kids that technically can't have one.  I thought maybe I needed a change of pace, but not of career, and moving to 7th or 8th grade language arts would provide one.  I know there are struggles at this level, too, I taught middle school in Georgia, but I thought maybe, just maybe, I could get my groove back.

So what happened to change my mind - let's start at the very beginning (the very best place to start)...

This year I had my scheduled changed at the start of the year and I thought it was literally going to be hell - they gave me a reading class.  A class I'd said before I didn't want, a class I didn't think I could teach, and a class I frankly didn't want to teach.  The students had already been with another teacher for two weeks and teens form bonds fast.  They may not love you all the time, but rest assured, moving to a new teacher is the perfect opportunity to praise the old one, making sure you know just how insignificant you are to them.  They dug in their heels and the hated me, just hated me in the beginning.

My regular English classes were coming along, but my Honors kids this year were another problem.  It seems that several students are in Honors that shouldn't be for one reason or another, and there are few that are so much smarter than me I have nothing to offer them - just ask them, they'll tell you (note sarcasm - smarter than the teacher, please...)  Truthfully, their biggest problem is that they are smart, but their intelligence has been perpetuated by an instant gratification society, and so they feel at the ripe old age of 15 or 16, they have nothing new to learn...I can't possibly teach them anything else.  They discover a typo and feel a Congressional Medal is in order for them - maybe they'll grow up to be editors (maybe they'll edit this - one can only hope).  This isn't the case for all of them, but if you've ever taught you know a tiny percentage of students that cause issues will spread like a cancer through a class of 30.  I hate it for the ones that want to learn, the atmosphere is often less than pleasant, but I continue to do the best I can to teach them, even the ones that feel I have nothing for them.

These two issues sent my anxiety into overdrive.  It seems small - only two...but when that amounts to three classes that you struggle with out of the five you teach, it's a lot to handle.  I had pretty much made up my mind that I was done with high school until an email appeared in my box this past Thursday:  Teacher of the Year.

Yep - I've been awarded Teacher of the Year for my high school.  I was shocked, flabbergasted, to say the least.  Here I'd been plotting my departure and all the while, my administrative team was looking at me with respect.  This award has caused me to pause and reflect and once again, change my plans.

While the reading class was tough in the beginning, it's now my favorite class of the day.  They students have grown so much and I look forward to seeing them, all of them.  They have enriched my life beyond what I could have imagined at the start of the year and they've worked so hard bringing their reading level from 5% on grade level to 62% on grade level read that right!  That's all them - they busted their butts on the last test.  In fact, I've enjoyed teaching reading so much I've researched a Doctorate I'd like to pursue in Language, Literacy, and Culture through Vanderbilt University to broaden my understanding of teaching reading and help more and more teens understand the value of literacy.  It was the students that opened my eyes to this new passion in education and I realize now, it was God's hand that selected me for them, not the schedule.

With the success of reading and regular English classes, I've realized that my strengths lie in motivating students that are not motivated themselves.  Honors students are fantastic and they are college bound, but truthfully, anyone can teach a driven child - God gave me the ability to work with the ones that aren't at school to learn, but often there to socialize.  Are they tough to deal with?  Yes.  Do I reach them all?  No.  But when I do and they jump over the line of a negative outlook on learning to a positive outlook on learning, the rewards of witnessing that moment are so great - nothing in my profession compares.

I went to my administration Thursday after getting the email about the award and let them know I'd be back next year to teach a new group of high school students.  I also let them know I no longer wanted to teach Honors classes, give me the students that make me work for it.

It is my firm belief that God is telling me my work with high school students is not done.  His hand is right in the middle of student success, of my success, and the award for Teacher of the Year.  He is talking to me, and I am listening.


  1. Mrs. McGowan,
    I was absolutely shocked when I read that article. Last year in your class, not only was it my best class but it was the most rewarding class. I've never been a very strong writer, but you pushed me, granted I fought it, but you pushed me to a new level that I am glad I reached. I do wish I could have had you again this year because I am feeling like I'm not accomplishing much and I don't feel very prepared for the TCAP writing. I know that I will do fine because of the skills you taught me.Everyone always said that you were a hard teacher but I am honestly thankful for having you as a teacher and you definitely deserve the award! I cannot think of any better teacher to receive this award than you. I wish there were more teachers like you, you are a very inspiring person. I definitely look up to you, thank you for everything!

  2. Tonya - I was shocked, too when I thought I might transition. Some of it was about CJ, but some it was other things. I miss your group very much - I can say that honestly!

    Thank you for your kind words, it means so much to hear from students and know that you've made an impact on their lives because I can honestly say that you all have changed my life in ways I did not think was possible.

    You will be fine on the TCAP...I'm sure of it. I also sent you a FB message with some tips - so check it :-)...

    Ms. Mac

  3. I read your story and was very moved by it. I can remember when Tonya first learned she had you for Honors English and that she had summer homework. Needless to say over time you changed her mind about you as well as teaching her to improve herself. You challenged those kids and they rose up to meet that challenge, that is what they need everyday from everyone, their parents as well as teachers and in some cases their employers. I had teachers to this day that I remember very well, that made a difference in me, I would like to say Thank You, for being the challenging teacher that you are and Congratulations on your award. I think you are right where you need to be. The high school kids will figure it out faster than the middle school kids. They don't always have the maturity to appreciate the tough teacher. I just wish all teachers made a strong impact on kids, maybe they would if they had to live without cell phones, computers and the internet and had to learn how to do things the "old fashioned way." I must really be getting old saying that. Anyway Thanks Again, you deserve this award and so much more. God Bless Sharon Stevens

  4. Thank you so much - what an amazing day to hear from both of you. I feel like that sounds empty, but I assure it comes from the bottom of my heart. You both made my day, and everyday, as I continue teaching.

    God Bless you both, too.