Written By: Jennifer Appel
“I think the teaching profession contributes more to the future of our society than any other single profession.”
From the time I can remember, I desperately wanted to be a teacher. Thus, when I deciding on colleges, I was focused exclusively on the schools with stellar education programs. After a pros/cons list and careful reflection, I decided on Central Washington University. While I had some struggles in college at the beginning (a blog post for another time), I was able to get into the education program and was so overjoyed to finally be on my way to realizing my dream of becoming a teacher. I always wanted to teach little ones (2nd grade was my dream) maybe willing to teach 3rd grade (Ironically, I’ve ended up spending most of my career working with middle school kids and loved every minute of it). Reading was a strong passion and I believed I had something unique to offer future students...
With this decision a new course of classes in reading came my way. In one of my early courses, I was introduced to my first professor in the reading department, Dr. Jurenka. She was a cute little older woman in her early 60’s that had been in education for years and seemed to know EVERYTHING about KIDS and READING. I was a little intimidated on the very first day of class, but also believed this is where I was supposed to be so elected to try and hide any feelings of intimidation. She was not like other professors I’d encountered; she didn’t start out with the syllabus, or lecture, she came right in and asked our college class a direct question:
“What is the most popular book for 5th grade boys?”
I was pretty sure I knew the answer, but again was a little scared to initially respond. After hearing a few other people answer, I finally got up the nerve to say, “Guiness Book of World Records”. And I was right, I remember her giving me a look, like...who are you? I think the question was meant to stump everyone in the room and then we would discuss, but that was not how it worked out.
Later in the quarter I remember, it was March 2nd, and I of course wore my Dr. Seuss shirt that day. I came into class and as it started she was beginning to talk and looked over at me and said, “Why are you wearing that shirt today?” and I told her it was Dr. Seuss’s birthday and this was considered Read Across America Day (remember this was in the 1990’s so it was just the start of this movement). She again was a little taken back by me, and not really sure what to think, as no other students in class were aware of this special Seuss remembrance.
My intimidation of her eased into respect, as I believed that Jurenka had began to understand, how serious I was about education. Then one day, we had a vocabulary lesson that we were assigned to create. I followed the directions exactly as was stated on the syllabus (I was such a compliant learner back then). I truly thought I did a great job. Several days later, my world was turned upside down as I got the assignment back and received a C on the assignment. I know a C doesn’t sound like the end of the world...but to me...in that moment...it felt like a big fat FAILURE!
Now, I didn’t get C’s EVER...maybe a B in Economics during sophomore year, but that was it. I was generally an A student and especially in a class that I thought I was excelling at and from a teacher that I thought really liked me. Naturally, I connected with Jurenka after class to ask what I could do to improve. Truth be told, I wanted an explanation of what part of the assignment I didn’t complete.
After telling me I had followed the directions exactly from the syllabus, I began to feel more confused and frustrated than ever. Why wouldn’t she have given me an A? Jurenka went on:
“No you don’t understand, you didn’t have any passion or personality in your lesson, it was just the facts, you were following a formula from the syllabus. That is not what teaching is about, you can do much better than this. I expect so much more from you.”
Initially, I was pissed off and thought she doesn’t know what she is talking about. Other students in class had received higher grades with lesser quality work. Why would she grade students differently based on the same rubric? I did exactly what I was told to do! Why was she picking on me! Am I not cut out to be a reading teacher?!
But then slowly, I started thinking about everything from another perspective. Was she right? Did I fail to put my heart and soul into the assignment. Was I simply going through the motions. In this soul searching moment of reflection, on a pizza and tears filled weekend, I realized that she was challenging me in a meaningful way! I didn’t interject any of my personality into my lesson and I certainly didn’t add any excitement or fun for the students. I treated it like it was an assignment rather than my life’s passion. I was focused on following the directions not creating a lesson that inspired curiosity, engagement, and empowerment.
Fueled by a renewed energy to prove something to my professor, I recreated the entire lesson and added my own personal touches to it. Furthermore, I added a few read alouds for the students to teach the vocabulary. When I was done with this masterpiece, it was an amazing lesson and I was thrilled to show it to my professor. She was beyond pleased with my fervor for teaching, the new lesson plan and gave me an A.
“I KNEW you could do better Jennifer,” Jurenka validated.
While the A felt satisfying, in that moment, I realized it wasn’t about the A at all, it was about me growing, learning, and striving to get better. The approval from Jurenka validated my awareness that great teaching is about pouring your soul into your lessons. Somehow she saw something inside of me that was special and in order to wake that part of me up, she elected to disrupt my learning with that uncomfortable first letter grade.
Award Winning Culture intentionally meets students where they are and individually challenges them to raise their game.
That moment stuck with me throughout my next two years in the program as Jurenka became my advisor; ultimately, helping me flourish through the education program. I am eternally grateful for Dr. Jurenka and what she taught me about reading; but moreover, what she taught me about exceptional teaching. It’s imperative to have fun and let your personality shine through. I’ll never forget that lesson and I think about her often when a lesson doesn’t work out the way I intended.
**How can we better infuse our own passion, personality, and purpose into our lessons?
**Are YOU willing to acknowledge when your operating at C quality work?
**Who gives you authentic feedback on your teaching?
**Are you willing to be honest with your peers to help elevate their classroom performance?
**How might you intentionally challenge specific students to dig deep, in order to magnify the light inside of them?
In the end...we must check our ego at the door in order to be an outstanding educator! Humility provides others the opportunity to help you uncover the great educator...you're meant to be!
Oh, the places you'll go...
About the Author
Jennifer is a teacher at Enterprise Middle School. She has been teaching for 20 years. Her passion for education comes from growing up in at education driven family and wanting to help and serve others. She is now driven to create an environment where all students are able to learn and become passionate about serving others. Jennifer can be contacted through email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow her on twitter at @jennifermappel. Follow AWC @awculture on instagram @awardwinningculture. Follow Wildcat Nation on instagram @emsleadership. #WildcatNation #AwardWinningCulture
Award Winning Culture was created by Hans and Jennifer Appel with the sole purpose of creating an educational mindset of Positive INTENTIONALITY and ACTION; with a daily mantra to make our sphere of influence stronger through Character, Excellence, and Community. Part of AWC's mission is to highlight outstanding educators, companies, and resources that support an Award Winning Culture. Both Jennifer and Hans work at Enterprise Middle School aka Wildcat Nation. Wildcat Nation received the 2018 ASCD Whole Child Award in Washington, for its award winning culture and the 2018 Global "Class Act Award" for Kindness.