Happy Teacher Appreciation Day!
Today, and this entire week, we are celebrating teachers and educators. Just over four years ago, I left the classroom to join SparkFun as the Education Engineer. Leaving the classroom was probably one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make. I felt completely in my element in the classroom. Schools have a distinct rhythm, sound and vibe. I always liked to get there at least an hour before school started, and just feel and hear the school awaken as students started arriving. Now I miss that feeling on a daily basis.
This is one of the last photos I took in my classroom at Overland High School. I was the robotics coach for FIRST Team 3871, and you can see some of my students working on cutting out cardboard gears for our annual back-to-school parade. Our space was open, creative and encouraging for students. I had the good fortune of working in a school and in a district that had recently added a new Institute of Science and Technology (IST) building.
It goes without saying that teachers are the unsung heroes of professions. There are so many things that teachers do each day, and I implore you to reach out to the educators in your lives and say "Thank You." They deserve as much as anyone!
Before I was a teacher, I was an electrical engineer. Don't get me wrong; I loved engineering. In fact, I loved engineering so much that I was surprised everyone didn't! When I think back to why I became a teacher and how I fell in love with teaching, here's what comes to mind:
Teachers get more done before sunrise than most do in a single day.
When I was in college, I attended and organized a student leadership conference where we used the tagline: "Carpe Noctum: Engineers do more after midnight than most people do all day." It couldn't have been closer to the truth. I rarely started my homework until after 10 p.m., and I very often worked well until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning! We used to joke that it was when true inspiration would strike us!
As a teacher, my first class started at 7:10 a.m. I liked getting to the school at least an hour before class, and I lived about an hour from the school. So, this meant I was waking up around 4:30 a.m. Excepting bakers, morning radio hosts and coffee shop baristas, I can't think of anyone else who gets up this early on a regular basis. I love early mornings and getting a crack at my day before anyone else is awake.
As much of the world is waking up, most teachers have already taught a class, shared amazing and insightful messages about the nature of the universe, and moved the needle for our society up another notch. Early bird gets the...
True Role Models
I originally went into teaching because I loved math, science and engineering — and I was really good at it. What I learned early on was that teaching is so much more than just the content. It's about being there for the students. It's about being a role model and building supportive relationships. Being a teacher is probably the most grown-up thing I've ever had to do in my life. We have the opportunity to influence and shape the way students move through this world. In many cases, our students see their teachers more than they see their own parents. While this is a hefty weight to bear, it is often overlooked. Teachers are so important, and — beyond the grammar, reading, writing, mathematics and science that they teach — they are role models for students and have a distinct impact on each and every young person who passes through their doors each day.
Born to Teach
Christopher McDougall wrote a book called "Born to Run" about how we, as humans, were built and born to be runners. I'd like to challenge this and suggest that we are actually Born to Teach. Whether it's teaching someone to catch a football, throw a Frisbee or ride a bike, teaching is in our nature as humans. I've seen this countless times. Kids will run up to me wanting to show me what they've built and teach me about how it works. We are born to teach. It is a fundamental part of what makes us human and what enables us to have a civilization.
Making a Life-long Impact
My final reason is one that all teachers who have been teaching for a few years eventually experience. Amongst the hundreds of students you teach each year, a few often stroll back in several years later only to tell you about how much of a difference you've made in their lives. I've run into former students on city buses between Denver and Boulder, walking around the farmer's market, and now here at SparkFun. It's often times the most subtle things that we do in class each day that make the most lasting impressions. It's unlikely that our students will remember how you taught them Newton's Laws or how to solve an equation for x. What they do remember is that you took the time to help them through difficult problems, you encouraged them to persevere through tough times, or you were just there to listen. We each make a BIG difference and a huge impact on every student that we come in contact with. This is perhaps my biggest reason for why I love teaching.
One thing I ask is that we encourage and foster this love of teaching. While, yes, I agree that STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) is important, and it's important that we help patch and fill the leaky pipeline for STEM careers, what about the lack of qualified and passionate teachers? My story for each and every one of my classes has been that I loved science, math and engineering, and I couldn't think of a better career than sharing that love with others.
If you're a teacher, or considering becoming a teacher, please think about ways that you can encourage your best and brightest students to not only go off to study science and engineering, but also to consider taking that love and becoming a teacher. There are many programs, such as the UTeach model, that allow students at various universities who are studying math, science or engineering to also pursue a secondary track in secondary STEM education. UTeach is currently implemented in more than 25 college campuses across the United States. It's a tremendous program that I would have taken advantage of had it been available to me during my undergraduate studies.
Are you a teacher? Educator? Community member? What do you love about teachers and teaching? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments below.