I became a teacher by accident. It was serendipity in action. When I left my high school on that last day of senior year, I was absolutely giddy and said, “I don’t know what I want to do, but I never want to step foot in school again.” I didn’t even really want to go to college because I disliked school so much. So the fact that I have spent pretty much every day of my life since then in a school, thinking about learning, writing about education, and advocating for students, staff and families is bewildering. To say the least.
This summer, in preparing to support educators in reconnecting with their why, I reconnected with my why. As I tell you my story, be thinking of your own journey into the greatest profession on earth. To begin, let’s take a look at this picture of little Allyson Wisner (I wasn’t married yet) reluctantly volunteering in her aunt’s first grade classroom, then I’ll explain how I ended up there.
I didn’t look unhappy at all, did I? I was leading the students in an art project after reading them The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister, a go-to project for all education students in the 90s. I attended my local community college, studying business because I couldn’t think of anything else I wanted to do. In the beginning of my sophomore year, the psychology class I was enrolled in was canceled and I had to find a course that would fulfill the same requirement and fit into my schedule. The only course that fit the bill was Educational Psychology. When the professor asked students to raise their hands if they wanted to be a teacher, I was the only one with both hands in my lap. Regardless of my future aspirations (I didn’t really have any at the time), I needed to do the classroom volunteer work just like everyone else. I was incredibly surprised to find out that I actually enjoyed working with students because up to that point I didn’t even think I liked kids!
I remember a distinct moment in that first grade classroom when I looked into the faces of those sweet, eager students and I thought, “Oh no, you poor little souls! You have 12 years of torture ahead of you that will suck all the joy of learning and curiosity right out of you.”
And that was the moment I decided to become a teacher. I was compelled to act, to be the change, to provide students at least one year where they felt seen and valued and where curiosity led the way. I knew I could give them one year where school was a place they were excited to go to each morning. Being an educator was my calling and I never turned back.
As you are thinking about your why, can you sum it up in six words or less? Here is my why in four words:
Not on my watch.
Not on my watch will a student feel like school is more about task completion and less about the joys of learning. Not on my watch will a student wonder if his teacher knows him and values him. Not on my watch will there ever be a day we don’t laugh together and build relationships. Not on my watch will a student feel about school the way I felt about school.
My early career led me to teach grades 3 through 8 (not all at the same time, thank goodness!) in two different schools before transitioning into school leadership. My mission is the same as an educational leader. Not on my watch. All teachers and all staff deserve to feel seen, valued, included, and truly engaged. That mission is what gets me out of bed each morning ready to work hard and love what I do.
As we look to create a school year that feels more aligned to why we chose education as our profession and purpose in the first place, let’s all reconnect with the reason we are here. We know we will never get “back to normal” because the pre-COVID normal doesn’t exist any longer. We are all changed. But, our purpose remains the same and reflecting on our why can help us get back to focusing on our passions and the work that fuels us. Feeling like we are fulfilling our purpose again will absolutely help school feel more “normal”.
If you’d like to do the “Tell us your why in six words or less” activity with your colleagues, students or staff, here is a simple slideshow you can use to get you started. Feel free to make a copy to customize it for your needs. There is space on the second slide for you to add a picture that illustrates your why. The last slide is blank so you can get creative with how the group shares out their six-word why’s.
I would love to hear your six-word why. Please share in the comments or by tagging me (@AllysonApsey) and #SerendipityEDU on social media. If you use this activity with your staff and/or students, please let me know how it goes. You can always reach me at AllysonApsey@gmail.com. I am thankful for you because we are so much better together!