By Carly Mitchell / New York City
(The author, a public-school teacher, is using a pseudonym for professional reasons)
September is one of the strangest months for teachers like me. If the school year were a solar system and September were a planet, it would be Pluto, a dwarf planet. Throughout the month, teachers and students kind of orbit around one another as we all try to figure things out (every year is a clean slate!). Classroom dynamics are not fully established yet, and it seems we haven’t really found our place in space.
Some Septembers move slooowly (and if I may indulge in the Pluto metaphor once more, one year on Pluto is actually 248 Earth years), and others fly by. As I write this, it is a crisp fall Friday, and I cannot believe it is actually the last day of September. Like a NASA rocket on its way to the moon, September has flown by (okay, I’ll stop now, I promise!). Even my seventh-grade students at the school where I teach English in Brooklyn, agree with me. Now that is saying something.
Now seems like the perfect time, then, to reflect back on our first month back to school. I feel so fortunate, especially for many of the wonderful educators I am lucky enough to work alongside.
There is one such teacher in particular whom I admire, who I am going to refer to as Mrs. Courage. She is a sixth-grade teacher at my school. She comes from a small island in the Caribbean and has been teaching for some 20 years. She is one of the hardest working and best educators whom I know. Whenever I step into her classroom, I think to myself, “Now this is who I aspire to be.”
Mrs. Courage’s lessons are engaging and her lesson plans are organized, so incredibly organized ,that she often has the entire month planned in advance. (YES, MONTH!) Student work covers the walls of her room, as well as helpful anchor charts that students can reference if they are looking for a transition word in their writing or they forget how to use a pesky quotation mark.
Mrs. Courage is one of the first to arrive in the morning and one of the last to leave in the afternoon. She is rarely alone–students swarm to her like bees to a hive. One day last year, I went into her room during lunch to ask for some advice, and a student who is notorious for being quite difficult actually popped out of her classroom closet. That was quite a surprise. They just love her.
The lessons Mrs. Courage teaches go beyond academics. She provides students with structure (and oh how young people crave structure, especially when they come from households that lack it!), love, and, when necessary, the occasional stern talking to.
Did I mention that she is technologically more advanced than I am, even though she is almost 40 years my senior? Last year, Mrs. Courage raised enough money via DonorsChoose, an online platform that teachers can use to raise money to buy school supplies, to buy an entire set of classroom ChromeBooks.
My new crop of seventh-grade students had Mrs. Courage as their English Language Arts teacher last year, and the magic she worked upon this group of 12-year-olds is apparent. Not only did they rock their ELA state tests as evidenced by their scores, but many of them are genuinely excited about English class.
Sure, there are the occasional skirmishes and distractions (the other day a student called one of his classmates a “deflated water balloon,” whatever that means) but for the most part, my current group of students respect one another and are eager to learn. Of course, this is due to a variety of factors, but the way they speak about Mrs. Courage and all that she taught them last year is indicative of her lasting impact on them as young people. “Mrs. Courage taught us that!” “Oh yeah! We learned that last year in Mrs. Courage’s class!” “Well, Mrs. Courage said…” In sum, Mrs. Courage cares for her students and the school community, and making the world a better place. It is teachers like her who keep this Earth spinning. Mrs. Courage is the sun.
Carly Mitchell (a pseudonym) is a public-school teacher in Brooklyn N.Y. who loves to learn, to educate, and to expose the hypocrisy of New York City politicians.