#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.

Related categories:
  • JenniferHenderson

    #TeachingIs…

    Love this – beautifully said.  Through all the struggles and frustrations, I find strength when I remind myself why I am here  – my students need the best me every day!  Thanks for sharing this.

    • Aekoonlaba

      Thank you for the kind reply.

      Hi Jennifer!

      I just wanted to let you know that I really appreciate your comment. It was hard for me to admit (in writing) that I struggle sometimes. I usually write scholarly pieces, but this was much more personal. It felt good to share. I hope it can help another teacher who is feeling similarly. 

      Thanks again!

  • Mary259

    Great read

    Thank you for putting to words what so many of us in the profession are feeling.

    • Aekoonlaba

      Thanks

      Thanks Mary. Something told me other teachers probably felt similar. 

  • TarynSnyder

    #TeachingIs Full of Awesome People Like You!

    Thanks for sharing how much of your heart and soul you pour into your students. You managed to convey so many of the feelings I have every day walking into my third grade class each day here in Boston. When I’m tired, not feeling well, busy, stressed, completely overwhelmed, etc, #TeachingIs 100% about the little ones that walk into my room each and every day and depend on me to provide a necessary step in their future. Your students are so lucky to have someone so devoted and kind to learn from!

    • Amanda

      Thank you

      Thank you for your comment. I have tried to make #TeachingIs not about me, #TeachingIs kindness and #TeachingIs service habits of mind. It has really raised the level of joy that I have in my life. 

  • Aekoonlaba

    Thank you

    Thank you so much for the comments. I have really tried to make habits of mind out of the ideas that #TeachingIs not about me, #TeachingIs service and #TeachingIs kindness. It makes for a much more joyful life. 

  • Katharine

    Great read!

    What an amazing piece-very well written! Thank you for inspiring me and reminding me what #teachingis! 

    • Aekoonlaba

      Thank you Katharine

      I appreciate you taking the time to comment! 

  • reginastacy

    #Teaching is…

    Thank you Amanda your words hit a place within my heart that helped me to realize why I fight to continue living in spite of one set back after another.  I love teaching, I love the memories, I love reading beautiful words like yours, I love how my students look to me for their learning.  Thank you for your kindness and the ability to offer a clearer understanding as to why WE push forward each and every morning.

    • Aekoonlaba

      I love teaching too!

       

      Regina,

      Thank you so much for your comment. Teaching can be so hard sometimes. I think that is a major reason that it’s vital we find ways to connect with other teachers. Please reach out anytime!

  • Petra Schmid-Riggins

    Love, Kindness, Compassion

    Dear Amanda

    teaching is so much more than a standardized test score. Teaching means treating kids with kindness, showing compassion, and often unconditional love (agape). How can anyone measure these ingredients of successful teaching in a test score.

    Loved reading your blog. It is heartwarming to know what a wonderful teacher and mentor you are to 600 students.

    As always,

    Petra

    • Aekoonlaba

      Thank you

      Petra, Thank you so much for saying this. I agree with you! And, I just love teaching! I really appreciate you taking the time to comment on this blog post. Also, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your kind words. I feel inspired. 

  • Caren Barber

    kindness matters

    Thank you for your "kind" words. Just what I needed to inspire and motivate me throughout these last weeks of school. I look forward to reading more of your work!

    • Aekoonlaba

      Thank you so much

      Thank you so much Caren. You just can’t imagine how much I appreciate you taking the time to comment on this post. I love writing about education! It is one of my many passions. I encourage you to do more of it yourself. Don’t be afraid to reach out to me! MANY MANY THANKS!!

       

  • akrafel

    Kindness

    Thank you for the mantra.  It really does help get me above the ego of the day.  You are right, it is not about me, it is about them, my students. “Someone needs me today.”  Good reminder about what we are here for.  Yet for my own self, when I serve them well, I get satisfaction in my heart that I made a difference for them. Kindness given, kindness received and echoed back is what makes teaching magic. It is a feedback energy cycle.  When we give, so shall we receive.  I love those moments when kindness and light shining flows out of their eyes, when they got it, when they work hard, it then flows back to me and helps me go another day. Kindness is a very powerful energy.  It washes souls and lets them shine. It is the heart of what we do.  Thank you for reminding me of it.

    • Aekoonlaba

      I love this comment!

      You are exactly right. I get that same satisfaction. I don’t think the teacher part can be separated from the student part. Its a beautiful cycle. 

    • Andrea

      Yes

      Alysia, I like the way you say "feedback energy cycle." That's exactly what it is!

  • Ella

    oh!

    Oh Amanda! This is perfect. I am going to print this and tape it to my desk. Thank you so much.

    • Aekoonlaba

      Wow

      Thank you

  • Ashley Hester

    #TeachingIs Service

    Amanda, 

    Your words reminded me of why I became a teacher. I wanted to help! I wanted to serve! Little did I know at the time what I was getting myself in to! This year, my 7th year of teaching, has by far been my most challenging! Physically and mentally I'm spent!  I've whined! I've complained! I've threatened to find a new career, because I've been so upset with what is happening to our "kids" with all the testing! When you wrote teaching is not about me, it made me feel a bit selfish. I had to do a heart check, and not the kind I have when I go to my MANY doctors visits!  I realized this calling is not for the faint of heart! They need us now and depend on us to show up!  Thanks for inspiring me to show up, to keep going, and remembering it's not about ME! I'm encouraged and I hope you keep writing!!! 

    • Aekoonlaba

      Thanks for your comment

      Teaching is hard. I did not intend to make you feel bad or selfish. I feel that when I look at it this way, I get the joy back that I put into it. Teaching is not at all completely unselfish. Its not altruistic. I even wrote that in the post. Its okay to want to be happy. Teachers deserve to be happy. It just helps me and motivates me to try to focus on the service aspect. Try to hang in there! But, do what is best for you. 

    • Aekoonlaba

      I support you Ashley

      Don’t hesitate to reach out!

      • Ashley Hester

        Thanks for your reply!

         Thank you for your reply! I'm hoping to foster more balance in the upcoming school year! Making sure I take care of myself, so I can be there for my students as well! I'm not ready to give up yet! Thanks for inspiring me! 

        • Aekoonlaba

          Welcome

          You’re welcome Ashley! Thanks again!

  • Esperanza Lopez

    Well said

    It's when teachers are able to honestly reflect on their practice that we become better. I agree with your post and it is something I will pass on. Many teachers, the ones who have the same belief and the ones who feel like the struggle is too much, need to know they are not alone.

    My moment came after a very hard year, both personally and in the classroom. I didn't feel I was right for my kids any more. I needed to make some changes and be a better teacher or get out. I chose to take the National Board Certification journey – which isn't what anyone expected since that would add a lot more stress. However, the princpals I learned about, the teachers I met, the self reflection I did, all made me a better teacher. It changed my practice instantly. Although, I didn't earn the certification, I gained so much more as an educator.

    You're mantra was exactly what I realized, someone was counting on me today. Mine is, my students deserve 100% of me, 100% of the time. 

    "Teaching is kindness. Teaching is not about me." I could see this on a mug or shirt! 🙂 

    On behalf of YOUR students, thank you for all that you do. You are a blessing in their lives.

    • Aekoonlaba

      Thanks

      Thank you so much for your comments. I need to look into getting a shirt printed with this on it! That would be fantastic. Maybe one of those companies you see when scrolling through Facebook.!  

      Thank you for opening up about your year. It’s good for our spirit to connect with one another and share our experiences.

  • Amy Tanner

    Great Job

    Thanks so much for this Amanda. I really enjoyed reading it. It makes me think about my motivation for going to work each day. It is important to take care of myself and tend to my needs as a professional and a human being. Yet, the two things go together don't they? Taking care of students and taking care of ourselves as teachers. I like how you equate service with kindness. You also point out that even though #TeachingIs not about us, it is connected to us. Thanks again. 

    • Aekoonlaba

      Thanks

      Thank you so much for your comment. I truly appreciate you for taking the time to read this post.

  • Tia M.

    Thanks for this

    This blog post makes a great point. I think you are trying to say that you have a service mindset. That is what motivates you. I like that you are aware of that. I think that more of us could stand to remember that since it is probably why we became teachers anyway. There are a lot of things happening in education right now that we sometimes allow to steal our joy. It is important to make a conscious effort to keep this mindset so that we can keep our own sanity and happiness.

    Thanks again. I loved the post!

    • Aekoonlaba

      Thank you

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments!

  • Eliza

    Yes!

    yes yes and yes! This was exactly what I needed today. A friend forwarded this to me. I really needed this. What a call to action for us to remember why we are here (especially on the countdown to EOY)!! Thank you!

  • Andrea

    Thanks Amanda

    Thanks for this Amanda. I hope you continue to write heartfelt pieces like this one.

    • Aekoonlaba

      Thanks so much

      I appreciate your words of encouragement Andrea.

  • ReneeMoore

    The Calling to Teach

    A beautiful post, Amanda, and deserving of all the accolades shared here. For so many of us, me included, teaching is so much more than a job or a career choice–it is a spiritual calling ( the original meaning of “vocation”). I try to live by this creed:

    “Use whatever gift you have been given to serve others” (I Peter 4:10, Holy Bible, NIV).

    • Aekoonlaba

      Yes!

      It is definitely a calling for me as well! Thank you for sharing the scripture and for taking the time to post a comment. 

  • Joy

    teaching is not about me

     As always your have put the words in the right place.

    • Aekoonlaba

      Thank you Joy

      I have counted it such a blessing to read the comments posted here about my blog. It has really been a meaningful experience for me. Thank you!

  • CC

    reminder

    This serves as a reminder to me as to why I got into the field of education in the first place. I wanted to serve students. So, yes, teaching is service. Service does benefit the server, but it is about the person receiving the service. Thank you for this reminder. I look forward to reading more of your posts. 

    • Aekoonlaba

      Thank you CC

      Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. I like what you say about service benefiting the server but being about the one who receives the service!

  • Lynn

    Lovely

    Amanda,

    This is lovely.  It also shows why we need to give credit and support to all the teachers who get up every day, prepare for school every year, and work with our children.  Teaching is hard and we are lucky to have dedicated teachers like you who care so deeply.

    Lynn

     

    • Aekoonlaba

      Thank you

      Thank you so much Lynn. I adore the word “lovely” to describe this. I appreciate your feedback! 

  • Aekoonlaba

    Hi guys! I feel so honored

    Hi guys! I feel so honored that this post was selected as a feature for the redesign of the CTQ homepage. I wanted to share a follow up post that I wrote for Anthony Cody’s Living in Dialogue called #TeachingIs About All of Us. As always, I would love to read your thoughts, comments, and feedback.

     

  • Mike Kane

    Thank you!

    Amanda, Hmmm, great timing for this post to come into my universe! I have been stunningly overwhelmed this semester. I am an older, newer teacher (I only note tha as a point of reference) and up until this year, had absolutely loved going to work everyday and then this year came along. Oh, I could blame the events of this year on other things but the truth of the matter is, the responsibility lay squarely on my shoulders. You see, I accepted to extra-curricular duty of Activities/Athletic Director for our school district, a small, rural school district in SD. That being said, I am probably not, no wait, definitely not, an administrator but wanted to help out my administrators, who are wonderful people, totally invested in making our school a better place. I should have probably thought my decision through a bit more. This position has been all-consuming and has left my classroom wanting! Sorry, long story short, this Christmas break has been one of dread, dreading going back to school, dreading anything that has to do with my district and yet, reading your post, reminded me of what I am here for and no, it's not about me! Okay, I'm not sure I can honestly say I am doing a jig as I prepare for school on Monday but I am encouraged by your words … thank you!