Teachers Inspire Life Lessons to Succeed in New Decade

Guest Correspondence

With the dawning of 2020, we have completed one-fifth of the 21st century and are embarking on not just a new year but a whole new decade. That’s a sobering reminder that time marches on even when some people and institutions remain in a 20th century frame of mind. Fortunately, we can learn from our awesome 43 teachers who were selected by their schools for recognition at our recent Teacher of the Year Awards celebration. By example and instruction, they teach timeless skills that can help students to succeed now and in the not-so-distant future. All of us can benefit by applying these timeless lessons to our personal and professional lives.

  • Be flexible, adaptable and creative.

Today’s effective teachers stay abreast of and respond to emerging needs in our fast-changing world. They eschew complacency and refuse to allow themselves and their charges to grow bored.

Heather Young, the district’s 2020 Teacher of the Year, received accolades for the 21 years she spent teaching gifted students before changing to teach visual arts to K-5 students with varying capabilities.

Josh Grant, 2020 High School Teacher of the Year, changed professions, earned his teacher certification and happily taught English for seven years before switching direction again to revitalize his school’s digital media program using relatable topics and 21st century technological methods.

  • Develop leadership skills by modeling positive traits.

Teacher-leaders recognize that character-building helps our youth grow into responsible citizens competent to handle personal and societal challenges in a global culture. Some teachers focus on building a classroom community, collaborative learning, and managing both success and failure, while others emphasize compassion, patience, risk-taking and turning mistakes into revisions.

Marissa Dobbert, 2020 Middle School Teacher of the Year, teaches manners, kindness, accountability and persistence along with mathematics.

The approach helped turn around an angry middle school student with an unstable home life. “He had been a leader but in the wrong direction,” Dobbert said, “then he started leading in the right direction.” 

  • Discover and commit to an inspired purpose.   

A purposeful plan starts with discovering what sparks excitement and curiosity. Both Young and Ali Binswanger, 2020 Innovation Award recipient, were inspired by their own mothers who taught. They, and many more high-performing teachers, cite parents and beloved former teachers as motivation for wanting to improve children’s lives by teaching. Indeed, many enthusiastic teachers frequently describe their choice to teach as “a calling, my mission, my purpose.”  

  • Build relationships based on the whole person approach.   

The setting doesn’t have to be a classroom; it can be a corporate office or neighborhood. We can improve personal and professional relationships anywhere by remembering that people respond best when we are interested in them as individuals. In the words of Young:

“We don’t always know what kids are going through, and everyone comes in with something different. Be understanding and patient. Aim for positive long-lasting results, not just success on a single assignment.”

Wise words like these from stellar educators don’t go out of style or become dated. I believe that internalizing these and other affirmative life lessons can produce more long-lasting improvements than a traditional but mundane list of resolutions. Best wishes for a prosperous, inspired and creative new decade filled with the joy and insight gained from continuous learning.

Jennifer Vigne is president of the Education Foundation of Sarasota County.

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