When I walked into the classroom in my first year of teaching many years ago, students were ready to learn and my job was to move them through the appropriate steps to the next grade.
Today, if I walked in the same classroom facing the grandchildren of my former students, one difference would be that many of the students would not be ready to learn.
For example, some would not have completed previous grades successfully. Some would be too tired or too hungry.
Others would be too discouraged, too distracted, and too upset about problems outside of school.
With the social and emotional issues many children face today, teaching has become extremely complex, particularly considering the challenges of the State Standards, testing, goal setting, and required documentation.
The hard part of teaching is that even with all the time-savers we have invented, it feels now as if there is less time to teach than there used to be.
Even with the increased demands, I am very fortunate to work as a principal in education. Sometimes in the rush of day-to-day issues, I forget just how lucky. Education is all about people.
It calls for great "people skills" and our teachers practice those skills every day.
The Cottonwood-Oak Creek District is especially good at creating a positive atmosphere in classrooms and around campuses. I have had the privilege of working at three of the five campuses. I have observed that our teachers truly understand the power of praise. They look for opportunities to find students doing things right and praise them so they continue doing the right things.
They treat students with respect and, as good role models do, they are supportive of each other as well. They make sure students know they are cared about. I appreciate the empathy shown to students and the willingness to spend the time necessary to support students' learning. There is pride in students' accomplishments when our students reach and even exceed the expectations we have set for them.
Even though teaching may sometimes feel like an uphill battle and there are days when the teachers feel overwhelmed, it just takes one success to give them the energy to forge ahead. The exciting thing about teaching is that there are so many more opportunities to learn in this new age of information.
Our teachers today are being held accountable more than ever for raising test scores. However, these tests measure only a part of what our schools should be doing. Teachers understand that education is not only limited to academic achievement but involves compassion, flexibility, communication, humor, imagination and the willingness to be open-minded. All these skills are important in our daily lives. Visiting classrooms, I can see that there is a plan and purpose for everything. The teacher's focus becomes the student's focus.
The quality of "making a difference" does not stop with the Cottonwood-Oak Creek teaching staff. Everyone on our campuses from the deans of students, the aides, nurse, and secretaries to the custodians, cafeteria workers and counselor cares about the well-being of all the students. They are cheerful, helpful, and encouraging. They filter out the negative energy and approach each day with a positive, "I want to be here," attitude.
I am so fortunate to work with such dedicated professionals. They are the very reason that I look forward to going to school every day. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't learn from them and from the children. That is why I say that people, not programs, determine the quality of a school.
Sandy Huson is the principal of Tavasci Elementary School in Cottonwood.
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