Three weeks ago today, I was asked to speak at my school’s Benefactor Dinner. They asked that I speak about how my program addresses the emotional needs of boys. I was about one second away from declining due to my fear of speaking in front of more than 1 person . . . an introvert’s nightmare. Give me 100 children, I’ll sing and dance for you, but a room full of adults, the most influential adults in our school community? Ya I’d turn that down, sweat through 15 shirts, and nearly have a panic attack . . . instead I said yes . . . sweat through 2 shirts, nearly had a panic attack, and settled for a glass of wine to cool my nerves instead.
It didn’t help that my colleague went first, talking about her literature program and knocked the socks off the audience with her eloquent speech. I will blame her for making me 110% more nervous than I was, and on a nervousness scale of 1 – 10, I was already at a 115.
Anyways, long story shortened just a bit, I walked up there stuttered through my first sentence, found my groove, and rocked it. It was like the decline on a roller coaster. All that anticipation and nervousness, for a thrilling ride down. The kind of ride that makes you say, “I want to do that again.” I was wound up for at least 2 hours afterward . . . just ask my husband.
Because I would do it again in a heartbeat, I thought I would share my speech with you.
I am a product of a mother who was a teacher, later a counselor, and even later a principal. It seems as if my whole life I was preparing for my role as an educator. Teaching was engrained in me. I spent 6 years being a classroom teacher in both Colorado and Texas, later to become a school counselor and follow in my mother’s footsteps. Through my few seemingly short years as an educator, I have gained so much insight into the importance of the human condition. Not that which is innate, but that which needs to be taught. The human condition that makes us reflect on whether we are being the best people, we can be . . . I guess we can call this character.
I believe that character can be taught. In all my years teaching, time and again I would assume children would automatically know things like respect, problem solving, feeling good about themselves, and persevering.
But each year I sat wishing I had the time to teach these skills amongst everything else.
On my first day of teaching, my very first year, I had barely made it through to lunch time, praying I’d finish that day alive, and we were taking our class bathroom break. I did just as I was instructed by my 3rd grade team, “Only send three in at a time because there are only 3 stalls.” Good to know. 3 went in and 2 came out. The two that came out were yelling, “He flushed the toilet with his mouth!” Out came the third, proud of his feat. I tried to rack my brain for when this was taught in school, but nothing came up. So I simply asked, “Why would you flush the toilet with your mouth?” and he said, “They dared me to do it.” In that moment, I wanted to teach him self-respect, and decision-making skills and confidence to withstand peer pressure, but instead with 26 pairs of eyes on me I simply said, “That handle is too dirty to put in your mouth.”
When I taught 1st grade a few years later, I had a set of twins that came into school exhausted every day. They would sleep in their chairs, on their desks, under their desks, and on the floor. When you woke them up, all they wanted to do was hug me, sit in my lap, and hold my hand. I wanted to teach these sweet babies that they mattered, that people cared for and loved them, that they were special and unique.
As I progressed through my years as a teacher I realized that these skills needed to be taught to children, they certainly don’t learn them through osmosis. And not only that, I realized that they should be taught. Not just that can be taught, but that they should be taught.
So that’s what I do. I teach our children, our students, how to relate socially and emotionally to other people, how to understand themselves, how to persevere academically. We play, we laugh, we cry, and I truly hear things like, “Mrs. Allen I like doing these activities because it helps me know myself better.”
I consider myself one of the luckiest people alive to do the job I do. On an average day, I get to help our students solve problems while sitting at a sandbox and watching them work it out, I get to bring these sweet puppets into their rooms
and teach them about emotional awareness, and behavior, and self-esteem, and friendship. I get to challenge the older students to go out in the world and be gritty. And at the end of my day I get to read letters like this:
I am only one small piece to the Regis community, I believe in what I do, and I’m so happy to be here doing it. Without you I wouldn’t be doing the job I love, in a place that has helped me flourish, as well. Thank you for all for what you do for Regis and our community!