#TeachingIs Not About Me

Guest blogger Amanda Koonlaba shares her thoughts on what #TeachingIs and what it is not.

Lately, I have been thinking about how teaching is service. When I Googled the definition of service, my eyes landed almost immediately on the synonym: kindness. I’m not sure I would have come to kindness as a synonym for service on my own. Yet, I was fascinated that I’d never put the two words together. As I began to think more about this concept, I came to an even more important conclusion:

#TeachingIs not about me.

There are days when I don’t want to get out of bed. I lie there questioning whether I can pull it together just one more day. I wonder whether I can muster up enough energy to face 150 students, whether I can be everything to them that I know they deserve.

We all have days like that. I’m pretty sure anyone in any profession has days like that, but with teaching EVERY MOMENT COUNTS. That’s a tremendous responsibility, and I have to admit that sometimes I don’t think I can do it. I don’t think I am strong enough to face all of those kids and give each one what they need.

By giving each student what they need, I mean giving them all enough attention, energy, and quality instruction while they are in my classroom. I mean researching, developing, and preparing meaningful and engaging lessons. I mean teaching those lessons. I mean writing grants for funding so that we have the right materials. I mean monitoring them while on duty, monitoring them while not on duty but whilst walking down the hallway to use the restroom, monitoring them through the window of my classroom while they walk down the sidewalk, repainting the school store sign for the fifth time to make sure it looks nice for them, figuring out how to get art club to paint a mural so that they have a nice campus on which to attend classes everyday. They deserve amazing instruction. They deserve to be engaged. They deserve to have a beautiful school with murals and plants in the flowerbeds. They deserve a safe environment. These lists really do go on and on…

I struggled for the first six years of my career. I really struggled. I tried so hard to keep my work life and my personal life separate. I cared about my students. I worried about them. I cried when I knew they didn’t have socks to wear. I bought them bicycles when I knew their homes had burned down. (I am not bragging. All teachers do these things.) Still, somehow I thought I was supposed to keep my personal life separate from my teaching.

And then, I became an art teacher. I went from teaching 16 first graders to 600 second through fifth graders. I saw everything. The spectrum of everything! Every single child in that school became my student. Suddenly, there were many families to get to know and a new community with which I could engage.

Something snapped in me. Call it old age, call it an act of God, call it the stars aligning, call it whatever you wish, but I connected. I realized that those kids need me. That school needs me. I have to get out of the bed in the morning because I am needed. I accept that what I have chosen to do for a living requires me to give everything I’ve got all day long, every single day. EVERY.SINGLE.DAY. It is a service. A kindness. I choose kindness.

I am not claiming that teaching is completely altruistic. That’s ridiculous and impossible. I am a human being with feelings and needs and hopes and dreams. I need to provide for my family and have financial peace of mind. Sometimes I just need a nap or 5 minutes of no talking. I’m human!!!! But, when I decided to have a servant’s heart about my job, it became much easier to get out of bed on those hard mornings. It became much easier to do all those many things that are so important every single day.  My mantra is “Someone is counting on you today.”

A lot of people are counting on teachers to reach each student and continue the cycle of positive change for this world. Families are counting on teachers to help them educate their dear children to be successful human beings. I challenge myself each day to remember that #TeachingIs service. #TeachingIs kindness. And ultimately, #TeachingIs not about me.

Amanda Koonlaba teaches visual art to students in grades 2 through 5 at Lawhon Elementary in Tupelo, Miss. She is National Board-certified in Elementary/Middle Art and holds a masters degree in curriculum, instruction, and assessment. She is a member of the Teacher Leadership Initiative.

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