Celebrating Mentors and Colleagues
by William Anderson | 05.8.17
When I was in middle school, I remember my mom asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up. “An accountant,” I told her. It was a job I was used to hearing about, I heard they made good money, and were an important part of the world or so I thought. A smart choice. But even the words leaving my mouth didn’t feel right. A couple minutes later after really thinking about what my mom was asking me, I went back and told her my truth: “I want to be a teacher.”
There’s a lot of reflection and gratitude that come with Teacher Appreciation Week, and looking back on that moment from where I am now – serving the community I love as a high school teacher and teacher-leader in Denver, Colorado – I know I made it here because of teachers who inspired me and the teaching relationships I’ve formed along the way.
It all started with Mr. G. – Dooley Gehr – my social studies teacher in middle school. I wanted to be just like him. At that age and like most middle schoolers, my love affair with school was at its lowest point.
We used to spend lunches with him, hang out in his classroom after school, all because he let kids be kids. And that’s something I hope I’ve adopted from him – embracing my kids and making sure they know, “Hey, you’re great however you are.”
Years later, I was in college studying to be a teacher when I met a person who would turn out to be the biggest influence on my practice: Stephanie Rossi. She presented in my undergrad class about teaching, she spoke about teaching with so much passion that I knew right then and there I had to get into her classroom. I begged her to let me do my observation with her – offered to take out the trash, staple papers, anything! – and she, miraculously, said yes.
On my first day in her classroom, young and eager and overconfident, I told her, “I’m ready! Put me in front of the kids!” She said to me, “You know what you’re going to do? You’re going to sit yourself down and watch me do what I do.” So I sat myself down. I watched her. For six whole months, I learned from her and ate every bit of it up. Everything I do in my classroom today builds off her incredible instructional practice.
Nick Dawkins, my principal, recognizes teachers for the professionals they are. He asks a lot of us, but he knows the time, effort and commitment that go into this work, and he’s right there to champion us through it. He’s a local, too, and it means so much to do this together for our community.
Then there’s John Brovsky – every morning before school, you’ll find me in his classroom or him in mine. We talk and share ideas and support each other, with school and personally. We laugh and smile through the good times and support and encourage one another on the tough days. I have a best friend in a 66-year-old white dude who couldn’t have come from a background more different than mine. But he’s my guy, and we get through it all.
For those teachers who burn out or feel siloed in the walls of their classrooms, I’d be willing to bet “dimes to donuts” that it’s because there aren’t enough supportive relationships there.
So reach out. Find your own John or Nick or Stephanie. Because there’s nothing more powerful than having people to lean on and celebrate with in this tough, tough work we do. This Teacher Appreciation Week and always, I’m appreciative all right – appreciative of all these people who’ve helped me find myself and serve my students and my community. There is nothing like waking up every morning and doing the job that I love. I am so grateful of the chance to be what I dreamed of as a kid: a teacher.