Paula Williams: Guilford, Davidson teachers share similar joys, frustrations

May. 03, 2013 @ 08:55 PM

I began writing this column 15 years ago because I wanted you, the general public, to gain a better understanding of what it’s like to be a teacher.  We don’t live at school, as some of my youngest students think.  We are everyday people who happen to love children and young adults.  We love learning new things.  We love teaching a concept and seeing that “light bulb” experience happen for students as they “get it.”
Anyone who has ventured to teach, however, will tell you that teaching also is one of the most difficult and time-consuming professions there is.  That is why it is vitally important that new teachers are supported not only by their administrators by also by veteran teachers.  It is now a requirement that all beginning teachers, for their first three years, work with a mentor teacher at their school in North Carolina.
It is my privilege to be a mentor teacher to four beginning teachers at my school.  It was also a great privilege to be invited by Shannon Moore, English teacher and lead mentor teacher at East Davidson High School in Thomasville, to visit with their beginning teachers and their mentors last week and share a few thoughts on teaching.  Whether big and small, we found that all teachers share some commonalities when it comes to motivating students, interacting with parents, and preparing quality lessons that affect the lives of students and keep them wanting to learn more.
I asked my own mentees and the teachers with whom I met at East Davidson to share their biggest frustrations and their greatest joys from this school year.  For some, these reflections are about their very first year of teaching!  For others, these reflections come after years on the job. With their permission, I would like to share some of their thoughts with you.
First, my EC mentees and I at Pilot share a common frustration.  We feel like we never have enough time in the day to complete all the paperwork required for our EC students.  With little to no planning time and multiple meetings after school, it is almost impossible to get it all done at school.
Several East Davidson teachers shared that the implementation of the Common Core Standards this year has been a frustration. There is so much documentation that must be done for Common Core:  paperwork, online lesson plans, writing out every single lesson, and lots of extra training and meetings.  It has been time-consuming to work with an entirely new curriculum to meet the standards and has left little time to plan interesting and engaging lessons.  I know the teachers at my school would heartily agree with that.
Many teachers also expressed a frustration with apathy on the part of their students.  It is frustrating to work so hard on quality lessons and then feel like you care more about a student’s success than they do.  Apathy on the part of parents is also a frustration for teachers at both my elementary school and at East Davidson.  Of course, we have many supportive parents who really care how their student is doing.  But for some parents, it seems that a failing grade is the teacher’s fault and not the student’s.  One teacher shared that it seems many parents are beginning to back their kids instead of the teacher.  Growing up, he wrote, he feared his teachers calling his parents because they would believe the teacher and would be supportive of the teacher.  Now it seems that calls home can result in teachers getting an earful about what they are not doing.  A child’s education has to be a collaborative effort of teacher and parent, not teacher vs. parent.
Yes, teaching brings with it many frustrations.  That goes with the territory.  However, it was so encouraging to hear about greatest joys.  Rhonda Braswell, a first year teacher at Pilot and one of my mentees who is doing a brilliant job with a very international group of K-2 children with autism, said that her greatest joy is seeing how far her students have come.  They all started at basically zero on the skills scale and now they are reading, some are starting to add and tell time, and some are writing sentences.  But their greatest improvement has been with behavior.  She has students who spent the majority of last school year on the floor or in a corner, and now they are sitting at their desks and working instead of hiding under them!  She has seen the enormous potential in this class and can’t wait to see more!
At East Davidson, T.J. Norris, a beginning U.S. history teacher, said his biggest joy was having the highest test score in the county in U.S. history as a school.  That let him know that his mentor and department had steered him in the right direction this year!
Michael Sims, a beginning drafting teacher, said his students now call him “Draftmaster!”  It’s been a joy for students during his guided instruction to say, “This is cool!”
Kim Sexton, mentor, and Hillary Coffman, beginning biology teacher, both have seen many “light bulb” moments this year for which they are thankful!
Maggie Pursley, beginning Spanish teacher, said her greatest joy was teaching a student with Asperberger’s syndrome (on the AU spectrum) who was so shy and reserved at first.  He ended up actually performing a full 10-minute skit in Spanish!  She said it was a lot of extra work and planning for her but so worth every bit of it.
My longtime friend, Jennifer Evans, a mentor math teacher at East Davidson, shared that she taught AP Calculus for the first time in her career this year, learned alongside her students, and even got to teach her own son, Heath, who is a senior there this year!  Jennifer said it was such a joy to be able to see the way his mind works!
So as these last weeks of school begin to wind down, take a minute to thank a teacher in your life.  The teachers I know, including my new friends at East Davidson, are some of the most dedicated educators around.  They deserve our thanks and support.

Paula Gulledge Williams lives in High Point and teaches at Pilot Elementary School in Greensboro. Her columns usually appears on the Opinion page every other Friday but is published here today. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author.