“What’s the ONE thing you can’t teach without?” It’s a common question that people ask me. Most times, I think the person asking the question expects me to say some sort of app or edtech. Totally understandable since we’re overwhelmed with the latest technology that purports to make our lessons that much more engaging. But that’s not it for me. I’ll give you my answer, but with a quick side story first.
Two years ago, I was seated at a table that consisted of eight educators from Norman High School. We were enjoying dinner at the annual Celebration of Excellence in Norman where the new district teacher of the year is crowned. There was a moment when our director of staff development read the names of former Norman Teachers of the Year. As she read each name and their year aloud, I looked around the room and saw individuals stand at tables here and there. And then, before I realize it, there were three ladies at my table standing up.
There were two stellar, accomplished English educators and an amazing, veteran Special Education teacher. I was blown away that I was sharing a table with these three and noted that no other table in the room had this many district teachers of the year.
My next thought was, “How do I get on their level?” Over the next year, I spent more time visiting with Mrs. Noles, Mrs. Hemphill and Mrs. St. John, formally and informally. I would ask them what they thought about issues like education policies and simpler things like how their family was doing. These three women have a true passion for teaching - the kind of passion that is visible from one hundred yards away. Their work has cemented their last names into the school’s history and their photos hang in lovely frames in Norman High’s main office.
So, to answer the question, the ONE thing I can’t teach without, is my veteran teacher colleagues. One of the three ladies, Mrs. Noles, was my designated mentor teacher my first year of teaching, but the other two were my mentor teachers just the same.
And there are mentor teachers of mine beyond these three ladies. There’s Margo Loflin, Bobby Howard, and Dawn Brockman who teach across the hall from me. I can’t put a price on how valuable the three-minute long conversations are that we have between passing periods. And without a doubt, I wouldn’t be the special education teacher I am today, if it weren’t for Heather Caram and Katie Lentz who taught next door to me. There were so many times during my first year of teaching when I’d walk into their rooms with an IEP in hand asking what to do next. Both of these two wonderful ladies were only a few years ahead of me, so I found much comfort asking them for help because they weren’t that far removed in experience. And last, but far from least, is my wonderful co-teacher, Debra Baum, who I affectionately call my “math mom”.
As a teacher who has flipped his math class, I can tell you without hesitation that I would give all of that technology up if it meant choosing between that and my mentor teachers. No one does it alone. You could give me all the best technology and supplies and a class full of the highest achieving, most motivated students - but put them all in a portable classroom clear across campus away from my mentor teachers and I’d be done for. So this November, I am most thankful for those mentor teachers who have molded me into the educator I am today. I simply cannot teach without them.