Teaching: From Educating the Newest Generation to Ushering the Current Generation onto College

By: Drew C. Smith/Staff Writer

Photo Caption: From left to right, the Weston Elementary School, Greenfield-Central Junior High School, and the Greenfield-Central High School.

Educating students in this era has its share of benefits and unfortunate realities. While teachers and school administrators have some of the most advanced forms of education available and the technology to support it, teachers also have had to use such techniques and technology to teach during turbulent times. Teachers manage an array of issues from disruptive students to tough subject material to virtual learning. Each grade and school has had its own challenges and have had to meet them uniquely. So I sought to inspect and research these differences and represent to readers the individual experiences of teachers of differing backgrounds, schools, grades, and mentalities. 

Mrs. Brittany Smith is a kindergarten teacher at Weston Elementary School who is having a strong first year as a full-time educator. She has been a long-term substitute for several different schools and was able to get a position at Weston for her successes as a substitute. When discussing the grade she taught, she detailed what she enjoyed about teaching students at that level, describing, “In kindergarten, teachers get the first opportunity to shape how students get to learn. It’s a chance to have an impact on them as a person and as a student. A big thing that is focused on in kindergarten is independence. As a teacher, you get to help students develop a skill they will use the rest of their student journey.” 

Mrs. Lisa Potter is a retired English teacher who taught for 33 years, primarily at the Greenfield-Central Junior High School in the English department where she taught Honors English and High Ability English and helped usher burgeoning students into the advanced English programs at the Greenfield-Central High School. With years of experience in the field, she mostly stuck to teaching students at the 7th and 8th grade level, elaborating that, “I knew that I didn’t have the patience for the ‘littles’ in elementary. Although I was licensed to teach grades 5-12, I always taught seventh and eighth grade. My first teaching gig, I had freshmen. Not my favorite. Junior high kids are just FULL of life. They’re fun. They keep you young. They’re so forgiving as well. You can scold them one day, and the next day they have forgotten about it and are telling you a joke!”

Mr. Jonathan Hudson is the current head of the Radio and Television department at the Greenfield-Central High School. He formerly worked as a freelance videographer as well as a video editor and went to Ball State to study film and television. He explained that he particularly enjoyed teaching high school, stating, “I think what I prefer about the grades I teach is that they usually have more maturity and experience, I think they understand our expectations in Radio TV a little bit more. They’re generally able to work on their own a little bit. They understand delegation. Most pre-High School students don’t know how to manage time very well. So in our class it can be sort of difficult to train them on how to do that. Most of those students when they come into high school do well, but there’s a large learning curve.”

There are plenty of aspects about teaching that can be considered difficult or challenging. Mrs. Smith noted the unique challenges that come with teaching kindergartners and how she likes to manage them. She stated on the topic, “One of the challenges is finding a way to meet all students where they are based on their previous school experiences. It is an exciting challenge to help every student and shape their perspective of school.” 

Mr. Hudson had his own thoughts on some of the most challenging aspects in education, especially with his specific department which has a much more hands-on course compared to other subjects. He explained simply that the most challenging aspect was “rigor. So whenever you teach 9-12, you know, you wanna make sure you are challenging your upperclassmen, your second and third year kids, and you wanna make sure you aren’t leaving behind your freshmen. So I think it’s finding a balance of projects and the differentiation between the seniors, who are the most skilled, and the freshmen, who are the least skilled. And in the past, before, we had different classes. Sometimes it was more of a mentorship type thing, where the seniors would oftentimes mentor freshmen, and that will still happen at some point down the road. But right now, it’s just kinda different groups and we just do different projects, sometimes the same projects, but oftentimes one is just more advanced and I ask for more compared to the beginner projects for freshmen.”

Mrs. Potter elaborated that the challenges she faced had more to do with the mentality and attitudes of students at the junior high level. She illustrated, “Junior high students are just beginning to be adults. They want so badly to be adults (TURN back, guys, it’s a trap!) that they feel they know more than you at times. They like to test authority. They make impulsive, bad decisions at times. Although these are all challenges, they make up a part of what makes them fun!”

Teachers leave a fair amount of important information and lessons with their students, whether that be proper manners or the Pythagorean theorem. But, what is the most important lesson an educator can leave with their students? Mr. Hudson feels that it is accountability, stating, “Accountability, that’s the big thing. You know, we’re very particular about when things are turned in, we don’t take late work. And a lot of time parents won’t understand that, but I’m trying to teach vocational lessons that I feel like is our job to do, having worked in [the broadcasting] industry. For me, not coming from education, not studying to be a teacher, I just teach what I know about the industry. And that’s just all about accountability, about punctuality. You don’t always have to be the best or the most talented in this industry, and what we teach, you just have to be available, you have to be reliable, you have to be on time, you have to be very punctual. That’s a large part of how people get their opportunities, it’s not just your talent, it’s the kind of person you are and your character that is very important.”

“I want them to leave my classroom with a love of learning & the desire to be a good citizen,” Mrs. Smith punctuated briefly, as she went on to state traits that she hoped to help flourish in her students, listing, “respectfulness, responsibility, kind to others, caring.”

Mrs. Potter explained how she wanted to leave a simple sentiment with her students, stating, “Always do your personal best, every time, no matter what. If that doesn’t look like someone else’s personal best, that’s okay.”

Teacher-student relationships play an important role in a teacher’s success in educating their students. At different ages, student-teacher relationships have different challenges and realities, as well as attitudes and perspectives. When discussing the quality of her relationships with her students, Mrs. Smith elaborated that “I have a great relationship with my students. We have a close knit classroom with a focus on showing respect to one another. Students feel comfortable sharing with their classmates and myself. We have worked hard to create a positive classroom environment.” 

Mrs. Potter described a slightly different situation and noted that each relationship with each student was unique. She illuminated this further, explaining, “All relationships were different. Every year was different. Every student was different. I have students in their thirties now that I am friends with. I have been to weddings, college graduations,  and baby showers. I have been a confidante for some and a sworn enemy to others. My hope was always that a student could make a connection with at least one teacher, someone whom he/she could rely on and be guided by. All you can do is love kids, treat them with respect, and hope they know you’re there for them if needed.”

“I feel like I’m very close with my students, I feel like I am a very real teacher. I feel like I am very consistent, my personality is the same day-to-day,” Mr. Hudson stated on the subject, further detailing his thoughts, explaining, “I think if you were to ask all my students, they’re very clear about what I expect, very clear about how I want things done. So, I think I have a very good relationship [with my students]. I’m still young so I understand a lot of how kids think, you know, I myself was not a great high school student, so I understand how to motivate and reach certain kids that struggle, that’s why we have very few people who get less than a C in Radio TV. We’re able to pick them up when they need the help. So, I feel like my relationship with my students is very, very strong and one of the things that most people don’t know is that I’m very good about communication after they graduate. I check up on students all the time. I was just texting one [not too long ago] about a Halloween project she did two years ago and sent her a screenshot of it. So, I stay in contact with everyone and I try to help people well after they graduate.” 

Discipline and misbehavior are an unfortunate reality of teaching from daycare to even college. Teachers have their own individual ways of managing misbehaviour and handing out discipline, some having particularly strong ways of straightening out troublemaking, or some finding creative ways to work with devious behaviour. Mrs. Potter described her very straightforward manner of discipline, stating, “Honestly, I had very few discipline issues over the years. My students knew my expectations and that I meant what I said. I also made a point not to ‘major in the minors.’ I chose my battles. No pencil? Go grab one. Your phone went off on accident? Silence it and don’t let it happen again. Kids in my room knew I expected them to do their best.”

Mr. Hudson elaborated on a similar approach to discipline, explaining, “Well, we don’t have a lot of misbehaving, just because I don’t put up with it, I’ll just put you out. I think what we have a lot of times is just freshmen who think they can kinda skate by and not do the work. So, when you have a class of 8-10 people, it’s just easily noticed, you can’t slip through the cracks. One of the things about me is that I’ll deal with a problem sooner rather than later, so I have no problem pulling people aside, asking where things are, saying you need to pick it up, you need to do this, this, and that. But as far as immaturity and people running around, we don’t deal with that kind of stuff. From day one, we are very stern about that kind of thing, but there’s always kids who want to do as little as possible and you kind of have to encourage them to do more, encourage being a nice way of saying it, but, you know, we like to get more out of them.”

Mrs. Smith detailed a particularly structured technique with disciplining her young group of kindergarteners, stating, “In our classroom, we have a calming corner where students can reflect, identify their feelings, brainstorm strategies to self-regulate and then return to the lesson or activity.”

Generations consistently shift and bring in new cultures, attitudes, and philosophies. For teachers this can be an interesting aspect of their profession, as they most closely see how kids shift overtime. Mrs. Smith, being in her first year as a full time teacher, was unable to comment on this, but Mrs. Potter, having taught for 33 years, had some interesting thoughts on the subject. She explained, “Most definitely students have changed. I began teaching in 1987. Students in general used to be more respectful, hardworking, and kind. I think, though, people in general have gotten worse. People are so into the ‘ME.’ Students also. They are so focused on themselves, that it’s someone else’s fault. They make excuses. I also feel that students don’t know how to be bored anymore, to use their time to reflect or to imagine. They expect to be entertained all the time. They want it now.”

“I think kids are mostly kids,” Mr. Hudson elaborated, “I think that with what we teach, because of Snapchat and filters and that kind of thing, I think some of the allure has been lost with true storytelling. Because it is just very easy now to do special effects and lip-sync video, whereas before you had to dedicate a whole lot of time to being very skilled at that kind of thing. I’m old school in the way that I still teach traditional framing of shots and traditional editing. I’m not disregarding mobile technology because I think it’s fantastic and it’s obviously the future, but I think there’s something to be said about learning how to write scripts, how to storyboard, how to sequence things and thinking things through.”

 Parents play an important role in a student’s relationship with their teacher and helping reinforce what an educator teaches at school, whether that be through helping their child with homework or generally supporting their child through hardships in the classroom and working with teachers in an effective manner. So, it can be troublesome when parents are upset with teachers for how they teach or hand out discipline. Mrs. Potter described how her perspective on the subject changed overtime, explaining, “I changed a great deal as a teacher when I had my own children. I always tried to imagine a teacher reprimanding or speaking to my child as I was about to with a student of mine. It’s amazing the perspective this gave. I tried to understand the perspective of parents before I had conversations.”

Mr. Hudson detailed a slightly different approach to this, elaborating, “I just try to explain the standard we are trying to accomplish. I think a lot of people, especially parents, don’t really know what it is we’re trying to do. They don’t really know that we’re responsible for live programming, that our radio station is government licensed and is really no different than any large radio station, or that our TV station is like any local small TV station, you know, we have to do professional-type work. And, typically when parents are upset about a grade I’ll send them an example of what [their student’s done] and then some other students work and explain that this is the quality of work we’re looking for. Almost every single time I’ve done that, they understand. And, you know, I really don’t punish kids, as far as grading goes, by giving them an F. It is very rare, as long as you have given a pretty good effort. If you’re a freshman the technical ability is gonna come down the road, but you know if you just throw something together that’s a different story. So, I think it’s just trying to get them to understand the quality of work we do, the quality of our upperclassmen, and the quality of what we’re trying to do.”

To manage these aspects can be extremely difficult. So what about teaching drew these individuals to the profession? What made them willing to push through and tolerate these challenges so they could work in this profession? Mrs. Smith explained that growing up and going through the school system, “I had teachers throughout my education journey that instilled the love of learning in me. I have always wanted to do the same for our future generations.”

“I don’t know that I was drawn so much as born knowing it was my calling,” Mrs. Potter elaborated on the topic, further stating, “I absolutely love sharing knowledge and watching someone else’s ‘lightbulb’ turn on!”

Mr. Hudson had a unique experience as he spent several years within the videography industry before he became a teacher. He described what made him become a teacher after initially being a freelance video editor, illustrating, “It’s just fun to work with kids. It’s just great to have kids who are always excited about what you’re trying to do. Having worked in the industry, being a video editor is kind of a lonely-type deal. You just kind of come in, do your work, you don’t really talk to a lot of people. Socially, it’s not great, the hours weren’t great, and the deadlines I didn’t think were particularly fair. So, with teaching, I feel like I can control a little bit more of the environment and the curriculum. Most aspects of what we do in here, the administration just respects that we’re going to be teaching the right things, so they don’t really hammer down on us for what we’re doing, they just allow us to do what we do. So, I like that idea, and I love radio, I just love radio and television. I love seeing kids excited about it, and it was something that I didn’t have [in high school], I was self-taught mostly and did a lot of things at church. Now that I’m in a position to teach kids who have it, it makes me super excited.”

Teachers spend a lot of time in their profession and consistently come back to teach the same class again for another year. Improving their skills as an educator can be an important part of furthering their career and finding more joy in their position. Mrs. Potter, despite being retired, illuminated that she felt she could always improve, stating, “I truly feel that as good as I might be, I can always be better. I consider it a good day when I learn something new. I had taught so long that it might’ve been easy to just grab a file or repeat what I did the prior year. I never did. I was always reflecting and tweaking. Self-reflection is so important. A willingness to grow is key. Over the last ten years, I knew that I had to learn technology and new ways of reaching kids or lose them.”

“Well, I think you always have to improve, and we found that out when COVID hit,” Mr. Hudson detailed on his personal struggles with the COVID-19 virtual/hybrid year, further explaining, “You know, I think [Mr. McKenna] (another Radio and TV instructor in Mr. Hudson’s department) and I, just as good as any teacher, figured out how to make it work, figured out how to send a radio feed to kids so we could still do live news. I think we had pretty cool projects from home. We found a way to balance what kids were doing at home and what kids were doing here. When kids got quarantined, we had projects in place for them to do at home. But, it wasn’t like that at first, you know, we were all scrambling! So, it wasn’t like I had this master plan and even now we’re still going week-to-week, I’m not planning entire units anymore. So, I would say, obviously, my planning could be improved, but that was a struggle even before COVID. Nowadays, I’m better at understanding situations, understanding how to keep kids engaged when they’re not here, understanding the work load, you know, should I lay off or give them a little bit more. And that’s for every individual student, some kids need less time to do things, some need more time. So, that’s something that kind of comes with age and something you don’t have right away.”

Mrs. Smith illustrated a very direct approach to improvement as a teacher, elaborating, “As a first year teacher, there are many things that I would like to work on and improve on. I have a great mentor teacher this year and look forward to future professional development opportunities that the school district provides to us as teachers.”

Each year students shuffle in and out, whether they’re moving onto the next grade or even into adulthood. Even if teachers are only with their students for a short period of time, they still can have a large, positive impact on their students as they enter the next phase of their lives. These three teachers pondered the impact they hoped to leave on their students and on their school as a greater whole. Mrs. Smith, only being a first year teacher, did not have any thoughts on the subject. Mr. Hudson had a simple sentiment, stating, “[I just hope] that they enjoyed their time. This class is important to me because I didn’t really enjoy high school, I didn’t really have anything or a reason that I really wanted to come to school every day. So, that’s first and foremost, is to make their educational experience enjoyable. And, second, the relationships I form with them, I really hope to help them at some point down the road. I’ve been able to establish a lot of connections, and get people internships, and get people freelance jobs, and I write a whole lot of recommendation letters that have gotten kids scholarships, so that makes me feel really great. So, those kinds of things are the most important things, I don’t think it’s anything that I’ll do personally, it’s what my students go on to do once they leave here. I feel like I’m a very small piece in their success and really it’s up to them for what they do once they leave here.”

Mrs. Potter closed it, explaining simply, “I hope that students know that I had all the hopes for them. My goal was for them to not close doors of opportunity. I wanted students to know that I was a cheerleader for their lives.”