In language and social studies courses, students learn about cultures and histories—the stories that shape yesterday, today, and tomorrow. These subjects help students see themselves reflected in other people and places. Teachers have the ability to make learning about telling and sharing these stories, and that is no easy feat. This Teacher Appreciation Week, we are honoring our teachers’ stories. We asked World Language teachers Priscilla Chastain and Shannon Athey, as well as Social Studies teacher Elizabeth Contreras, to discuss how teachers celebrate and connect with their students on smaller and larger levels.
A World of Possibilities
Teacher Priscilla Chastain reflects on how her college professor Dr. Oliver brought new life to studying French. “He made the French language come alive to me and gave me an appreciation of linguistics. I also participated in a summer program in Québec with him, and he made it a truly unforgettable experience. He believed in me and encouraged me to pursue my dreams. In later years, he became a mentor and friend to me. I will never forget his impact on my life.” Teachers teach an appreciation for things outside of students’ selves, bridging the gap between what is immediate and what is possible.
Inspiration follows when students learn about the world around them. Teacher Shannon Athey recalls how her teacher, Señora Rice, helped Spanish become her craft and passion. “She taught me Spanish for the first time and truly inspired a lifelong love of learning about the language and culture of Spanish-speaking countries, and she also got me my first teaching job when I was working in a completely different field. Truly, I would not be teaching Spanish today if it were not for this teacher!” Like Señora Rice, a teacher can help school become more than a string of subjects.
When asked about her favorite instructor, Laurel Springs teacher Elizabeth Contreras could not name just one. Each of them left her with something that still influences to this day. “Mr. Campbell taught me how to play the trumpet but also that being in band was cool and fun. I still own my trumpet to this day. The second was Mrs. Underwood who encouraged me, challenged my writing, and gifted me a MLA writing guide when I graduated from high school. I still own it, even though it is outdated, because it was a symbol of her faith in my writing. My third, and probably most favorite, was Dr. Hoye who taught a class about Japanese culture and politics. Because of him, I developed a deep fascination with Japan, learned Japanese, and still go every year.” Even though Ms. Contreras teaches social studies, music, English, and Japanese became a huge part of her life because her teachers had an impact on the way she sees the world through them.
A Little Goes a Long Way
Teachers not only connect students with the world inside and outside of the classroom, but they also honor them in ways that help them to celebrate their own achievements. Ms. Chastain makes school fun for her students to keep them motivated. “I love to send emails with funny memes and bitmojis to students to celebrate achievements, as well as to give encouragement. I also reach out to parents to give shout outs and spotlight the awesome work that their son or daughter is doing in French.” Allowing the classroom to be lighthearted and cheery allows students to realize that all of their accomplishments are worth appreciating.
Laurel Springs teachers believe that their success counts on the success of their students. Ms. Athey is no exception to this. “I measure my own success by the success of my students, so the better they’re doing the better I am doing as well! I love celebrating students’ achievements while they are in my courses, but I love it even more when they keep in touch afterwards and share their successes with me. Students may have me as their teacher for anywhere from a few months to a few years, but in my mind we’re connected for life.” Teachers feel professionally and personally fulfilled by what students give inside of and take away from the classroom.
No matter the “size” of the achievement, our teachers do not discount the gains their students are making in school. Ms. Contreras wants her students to know that completing an assignment or getting into college are all big deals in her book. “I like to celebrate my students’ achievements by recognizing that even little milestones are a really big deal in the lives of many. While for some people a big accomplishment may be winning a tennis tournament or getting into their college of choice, for others it may be doing really well in a class or completing an exceptional assignment. I think the best way to celebrate student achievement is to have a diversified outlook on what achievement means and recognize all achievements since small achievements add up to big ones.” Our teachers celebrate what their students are doing and learning because they are making leaps and bounds no matter what.
Opening students up to the world around them and acknowledging their hard work and achievements are vital to their success. Laurel Springs teachers understand and embrace this by teaching lessons and telling stories that transcend the boundaries of the classroom and live on with students for the rest of their lives.