Los Angeles teacher Emily Vogelsong says an educator’s most important job is to “see their students, listen to them for who they are and help them become the people that they want to be.”
That belief – in creating opportunity for kids to reach their highest potential – is one that motivates teachers and guides their work in the classroom. With students back at school, we asked teachers what they feel is their most essential role – and what they find most rewarding about their work.
What do you think is the most important thing a teacher can do for their students and their students' education and future?
“Provide HOPE!” – Jerri Taylor. Counselor, Howard University Middle School of Mathematics and Science, Washington, D.C.
“The most important thing a teacher can do for their student is to believe in them and set those high expectations. As a teacher, you believe in your students and, at times, you will believe for them when they don’t believe in themselves. Our belief in them will carry them until they see what we see … We want them to have their dream job. We want their future to be full of accomplishments.” – Ellison Sosa, Teacher Resident, Ogden Elementary School, San Antonio
Be committed, be prepared and be inclusive.” – Fred Salamone, Third and Fourth Grade Science Teacher, Boys Prep Bronx Elementary School, New York City
“… model what passionate learning looks like. I wholeheartedly believe that kids take cues from the environment they are in. If a teacher acts exhausted and shows their frustration easily, students will inevitably learn to show those traits too. If a teacher exhibits positivity and eagerness to learn, students will follow suit. For many, preparing for high school and college is hard work. Students absolutely need passion in order to make that a reality.” – Phoebe Duvall, Fourth Grade Teacher, Paramount School of Excellence Charter School, Indianapolis
Letting students know that mistakes happen to even the greatest. Making mistakes is a part of life and we must learn to roll with the punches. Giving up is not the answer, though finding a different way always is.” – Miryam Gonzalez, Teacher Resident, Ogden Elementary School, San Antonio
“I think one of the most important things that a teacher can do for their students is show them love - make them feel supported, loved and important.” – Alison Fair, First Grade Math and Social Skills Teacher, Girls Prep Lower East Side Elementary Charter School, New York City
“Instill a growth mindset in their students and believe they can do amazing things. Students need to set lofty goals for themselves and see how they've made tangible progress toward these goals through determination, curiosity and hard work.” – Joshua Martinez, Fourth Grade Teacher, KIPP Raices Academy, East Los Angeles
“… be their champion – be someone who is constantly cheering them on, believing in them, showing them that despite the challenges, their potential is endless, and instilling in them a love for themselves and empathy for others, and a firm conviction of what they are capable of.” – Shivani Goyal, Kindergarten Teacher, Clarence Farrington Elementary School, Indianapolis
“… be reflective. Every single moment of the day, students are watching and listening to what you say and what you don't say. It's incredibly important to pause and reflect on everyday occurrences and interactions no matter how mundane you think they are.” – Noelia Rodriguez, English and Language Arts Teacher, Girls Prep Bronx Elementary School, New York City
“The most important thing for teachers is to see their students, listen to them for who they are and help them become the people that they want to be.” – Emily Vogelsong, Eighth Grade Science, KIPP Academy of Innovation, Los Angeles
Empower them to become compassionate, diligent scholars.” – Yahaira Garcia Sterling, Fourth Grade English and Language Arts Teacher, Girls Prep Lower East Side Elementary School, New York City
“The most important thing teachers can do for their students and their students’ education is to take good care of themselves. Teacher burn out is exceptionally high. To enjoy and make the most out of our amazing opportunity to teach and learn alongside children, we must first begin with care for ourselves." – Kelli Love, Mindfulness and Yoga Teacher, Girls Prep Bronx Elementary School, New York City
“… keep learning, relentlessly. Students should know we’re still growing ourselves for the better every day, just as we ask them to do so.” – Jarod Wunneburger, Seventh Grade Math Teacher, New York City Charter School of the Arts
What’s the most rewarding aspect of being a teacher?
“I love when I see students in the hallway and they remind me of how cool and meaningful an activity was for them. Positive feedback from my students is priceless and more rewarding than a formal observation in a document telling me have done good job as a teacher.” – Claudia Fitzwater, Kindergarten-Fifth Grade Teacher, Drew Charter School, Atlanta
“I have had three different classrooms across my five years. The first featured a wall with a spot of black mold about as big as me. After it was removed, there wasn’t enough of the right color paint to make it blend. I had to commission a friend to paint me a poster to cover it up. The next was brand new and gigantic, but quite sterile feeling in the beginning. And the third, it was also new but pretty small and full of big kid desks instead of little tables. But within the first week of teaching in any space, my colleagues and coaches and friends, my students and their parents - they come in and they say, ‘It feels like home in here. There’s so much love in here.’ That fills my heart.” – Kaitlyn Gaddis, Founding Teacher, Livingston Collegiate Academy, New Orleans
“Working with families and students every day. I love seeing kids grow so much over the course of a year. I also love sharing that amazement with the student's family. It is such a special gift to see a student accomplish so much over the course of a year and have that evidence right there for the student and family to see.” – Katherine Brysh, Kindergarten Teacher, Brooke Charter Schools, Boston
This is the third in a three-part back-to-school series celebrating America’s teachers.