Teaching is a Superpower

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week. And, because I love and value teachers so much, I want to put a spotlight on who they are and what they do.

The teachers in my life, and the art of teaching, have impacted who I am and how I exist in the world SO much.

In honor of all of the teachers who inspired and challenged me to discover and develop my voice, today I will use that voice to celebrate all of their awesomeness.

For me, since I was about 10 year old and in 5th grade, I knew I wanted to be a teacher. I had Mr. Galluzzo. And I LOVED his class. It was the first time I think I fell in love with teaching and learning. Throughout my K-12 experience (shout out to Island Trees!) there were many teachers who created spaces and opportunities for me, and so many others, to become more than we were. They inspired and challenged me to discover that, like them, the art of teaching was also my superpower. And I was determined to learn and grow in order to use that superpower to have an impact.

I went to the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut and studied education. (Shout out to all the incredible professors and pre-service teachers I worked with at Neag!) Upon graduation, I got a gig teaching high school social studies. I taught modern world history, American government, United States history, human rights and more. It was through this experience that I developed ideas about BRAVE teaching, teaching for social justice and personal bravery.

It was through experience that I realized that teaching is not a position or a career, but it is more of a lifestyle. I am a teacher. I will always be a teacher. As I said before, teaching is a superpower. This was the experience that allowed me to develop an unwavering belief in the power of teaching. And learning.

After teaching high school social studies, I started to teach personal bravery, leadership and life skills, character development, empathy, diversity, feminism and social justice, health and wellness, academic success skills and more. Then I also had the opportunity to teach undergraduate pre-service teachers, and then graduate students of education. And now I have invited teaching through the lens of professional development into my world.

With each new opportunity to teach, I learn so much. With each new opportunity to teach I fall in love all over again. I am grateful that this still happens to me often. I suppose teaching and learning are one of my life’s Great Loves.

I am proud to be a teacher. And, I am proud to know so many beautiful and brave teachers.

Teaching and learning can change the world. I am grateful for that, it gives me hope.

If you know a teacher who changed your world, tell them. Sharing that story will refuel their superpowers more than you know. We all need to say thank you more, and we all need to feel valued more. We can give those gifts to one another. So, why don’t we?

Below, I was able to capture the voices of a few remarkable teachers from my own life. Their stories and words are inspiring and BRAVE; including highlights, lesson learned, advice and wisdom, challenges and more.

First, meet Rachel Eleiott!

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She teaches High School Social Studies at Cromwell High School in Cromwell, CT. She has been teaching for 9 years. Rachel played an integral role in the success of our 2017 BRAVE service learning project in partnership with Ir, Ver, Hacer in the Dominican Republic, where we partnered with the local community to build of Imbert to build a school. Her full interview is below!

  • What is your favorite part of being a teacher?

My favorite part of teaching are the conversations I have with students and the “real” life lessons that I get to share with them.

  • What is one of the greatest lessons you have learned through teaching?

The greatest lesson I have learned is to expect the unexpected. Every day is an adventure and just when you think your day will go one way, something pops up. I also learned that every student has a story to tell and if you invest in them and build trust those stories can help you as a teacher grow.

  • How does being a teacher challenge you to be BRAVE?

As a social studies teacher I have to have many challenging conversations that deal with political and social issues and sometimes I have to be BRAVE and share “unpopular” views or break down preconceived notions even when it might not be accepted by students or parents.

  • What do you believe it means to be BRAVE? How does bravery interact with and exist within teaching?

To be BRAVE means to be uniquely, authentically, and unapologetically you, regardless of how other might view you. Doing what you believe is right and the best for students is where I see my bravery come to play even when I know I might get push back from the administration other teachers or parents.

  • What is an unfailing piece of wisdom you pass along to your students?

Travel far and travel often. The greatest wisdom I have learned is through my travels and experiences meeting new people, learning new cultures, and helping those along the way.

  • What advice do you have for any aspiring teachers?

Teaching is the most important profession in the world. If anyone is thinking about this path they should know that they get to work with the most important people in the world, our future generations. Teaching is 80% personality and building relationships, and 20% content knowledge!

Next, let me introduce Tamara Barfield!

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She teaches Biology at Island Trees High School in Levittown, NY. She has been teaching for 18 years! Tamara is also the ITHS co-advisor for the BRAVE chapter. And, fun fact, she was my brother, Corey’s, favorite teacher when he was in school! Check out she has to say about teaching below.

  • What is your favorite part of being a teacher?

Mentoring students transitioning into adulthood

  • What is one of the greatest lessons you have learned through teaching?

Patience. Patience. And more patience. To always believe in my students even when they’ve give up on themselves.

  • How does being a teacher challenge you to be BRAVE?  

I cannot get upset with a student who is not reaching their full potential. Instead I try to look at life through their perspective and choose words that are uplifting.

  • What do you believe it means to be BRAVE? How does bravery interact with and exist within teaching?       

There’s no room to be a bystander. I have to set examples and remember that young impressionable minds are watching. If I am scared to do the right thing that is ok because that means I’m Brave.

  • What is an unfailing piece of wisdom you pass along to your students?

There are 7 billion people in the world and you’re worried about the 1 who doesn’t like you?

  • What advice do you have for any aspiring teachers?   

Don’t take this job because you want a pension. Take it because you want to invest in your future. Good kids….Grow into good adults.

The third teacher in the spotlight is Areej Nitwoski!

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Areej is a 7th Grade Science teacher at Sedgwick Middle School in West Hartford, CT. She has been teaching for 7 years. Areej puts her whole heart into all of her work with students. She has been a part of the BRAVE family as a chapter advisor as well as a Board Director and Secretary since 2013. Below, please find her interview!

  • What is your favorite part of being a teacher?

Getting kids excited about a new subject, or explaining something they thought they knew, but realize they have no idea the depth of the concept. For example, in genetics, we were talking about how birds and bees pollinate flowers and pass traits (sexual reproduction). When I told them this is why it’s called the “birds and the bees” the general response was OHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!

  • What is one of the greatest lessons you have learned through teaching?

That sometimes the most difficult child is the one who will give you the greatest sense of accomplishment. It may not be that day or year, but you will usually hear from them in the future.

  • How does being a teacher challenge you to be BRAVE?

It challenges me to be BRAVE, because it makes me continually reflect on how I am being seen by different kids. What type of person am I presenting? Understanding, patient, unkind, firm,.... Sometimes the look on a kids face is enough to tell me that they are looking to me for some kind of comfort. It may not be about school, it may just be that they need to see me smile.

  • What do you believe it means to be BRAVE? How does bravery interact with and exist within teaching?

I really believe being BRAVE means being true to myself, and not hiding ANYTHING from anyone. To live my life truthfully. I know that the phrase, “The truth shall set you free.” is a fact. Being truthful to myself, and to others allows me to feel like I have no regrets about decisions I am making, or how they impact others.

Bravery is a huge part of teaching, because there hasn’t been a single day that I haven’t learned something new about kids, and how they view the world. Bravery allows me to open up to my students. They are always more interested in a topic, if I tell them a personal experience. It may not be easy to share, but they know I’m being sincere, and I’m sharing it for their sake.

  • What is an unfailing piece of wisdom you pass along to your students?

You can lose your material things, and you can even lose people in your life, but your mind, your education, your experiences are things that can never be taken away from you. They are an integral part of your sense of self, and how you identify with others. It doesn’t matter how long it takes to learn something… you can learn something in 10 years, or not learn it in 10 years, either way, 10 years of your life will have passed. Wouldn’t you rather say that you learned something in those years?

  • What advice do you have for any aspiring teachers?

Don’t become one….. or at least not in public schools. Create your own learning environment, or go to a country that truly values educators. Unfortunately, the amount of effort, money and time spent on becoming a teacher, and the ridiculous expectations placed on us by society and administration is a prescription for continued depression.

And, last but certainly not least, allow me to introduce Ryan Bradley Gorman!

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Ryan teaches social studies at Island Trees High School in Levittown, NY. She has been teaching for 20 years. Ryan was my teacher for several courses as a high school student. She played a huge role in my growing passion for, and interest in social studies as well as teaching and learning as a teenager. Recently, I was able to visit her Sociology class as a guest and work with her and her current students. I miss her classroom! Check out what she had to say about life as a teacher.

  • What is your favorite part of being a teacher?

I love that I never have to graduate from school! I get a little smarter each year and that expertise helps me be more creative. I then get to share that knowledge with really great young people who keep me smiling!

  • What is one of the greatest lessons you have learned through teaching.

I started my first teaching job in the middle of the year. I was the students third teacher. I had a really hard time establishing discipline in my classroom.  I really learned how to gain control of my classes with a lot of help from other people.

I learned that you must be genuine with your students. I would never fit the mold of a strict disciplinarian, but it was important for me to expect a lot from them. I had to show students that I cared. I would  learn about them and go out of my way to say hello to them. I had to discipline students but give them dignity at the same time. I had to admit when I was wrong. I also learned that I was never going to know all of the answers and that was okay!  

  • How does being a teacher challenge you to be BRAVE?

I am challenged to be brave more often than I realized. Bravery is getting up in front of a class whose body language is showing me they will be hard to win over. Bravery is trying everything you can, even if you have to sing and dance, to motivate your students.  Bravery is discussing and simulating a lockdown, while at the same time reassuring students that you will do everything you can to keep them safe.

  • What do you believe it means to be BRAVE? How does bravery interact with and exist within teaching?

Bravery is facing the things in life that make you uncomfortable, whether it be doing an interview for a former student ;) or standing up against prejudice.

I think it is important to realize the bravery  that is exhibited by students each day, some of whom have a hard time coming to school, others who struggle and ask for help and still others who have the confidence to be their own person.  

In my classes I get to show students the power of brave individuals who risked everything for others. Nothing is more inspiring and  BRAVE than that!

  • What is an unfailing piece of wisdom you pass along to your students?

Money is not going to make you happy, but people will. We are social animals and we need human interaction. Have a real conversation, hold your friends hand and give your parents a hug!  

  • What advice do you have for any aspiring teachers?

You will have to put in more time and energy than you might ever imagined. You might even be nervous to go to work your first year! It does get easier and yes it is worth it!

Just remember to always be prepared and respect your students in the way you want them to respect you.

Also, remember  to take care of yourself so you can take care of others.

Revel in the small victories,  they will get you through!