Teacher Appreciation Week: Invaluable Advice

Teachers impact the lives of students everyday. In celebration of Teacher Appreciation Week, we asked some of our Teacher Champions to take a moment to reflect on their unique experiences in the classroom and share their thoughts.

Here’s what Kentucky eighth grade English language arts teacher Sarah Yost shared:

sarah-yostWho was your favorite teacher growing up and why?
My favorite teacher growing up was my fourth grade teacher, Ms. Roberts. Most of the teachers I had in elementary school still had desks in rows and very little group work, but Ms. Roberts was different. She let us crawl under our desks and sit on bean bag chairs for reading time, and I still remember a powerful lesson she taught on the difference between observation and inference.

What advice would you give to the first-year-of-teaching version of yourself?
I think in my first year I was very concerned about staying in control of the classroom and that sometimes came at the cost of joy, so I might advise my first-year self to lighten up and have fun with the kids. On the other hand, developing the kind of confidence it takes to meander through kids’ interests and laugh together takes time, so I would also tell my first-year self to be patient and keep at it. It’s really hard and heartbreaking at times, but completely worth it.

Why did you become a teacher?
Initially I became a teacher because I was a liberal arts major without a plan, and I was recruited by a fellowship to teach in Kentucky while earning my certificate and Masters. The more interesting question though is probably why I continued to teach. I’ve remained in the classroom because my students continue to challenge and inspire me and make me a better person every day.


Here’s what West Virginia high school English teacher Karla Hilliard shared:

karla-hilliardWho was your favorite teacher growing up and why?
Mrs. Mary Lou Oxley scared the pants off of most kids I went to high school with. She was the consummate English teacher — a classy, intellectual lady who was no-nonsense in her approach. In her Honors English 9 class, she showed me the world of reading and language. I’ll never forget her dressing me up in Elizabethan garb and handing me a chalice before my big soliloquy, playing the ambivalent Juliet drinking her poison, complete with a dramatic fall to the cold classroom ground. Simply put, I’m an English teacher today, sharing the love of reading, language, and Shakespeare because of Mrs. Oxley. 

Tell a story about the funniest thing that’s happened to you in the classroom.
A fellow teacher gave me an Edward Cullen (remember him?) cardboard cutout for my birthday. He became an honorary student. My students would dress him up in scarves and hats, move him around the room, bring him outside to reading circle, and have share his thoughts and feelings out our literature on a small dry erase board he wore around his neck. So if you’re wondering…Edward Cullen is Team Piggy and a staunch believer in the conch. 

What advice would you give to the first-year-of-teaching version of yourself?
To my first-year teacher self: 

  1. You’re not allowed to read Vogue magazine during your planning period. I don’t care that you have block scheduling and you have two hours. No Vogue, period. 
  2. Teaching is so much more work than you’ve ever done before. Ever. And pretty much nothing else you’ve ever done will have prepared you for work you’ll do, both in kind and degree. Peanut butter milkshakes will not grade your papers or plan your lessons. Turn that worry into work. 
  3. You were meant to be a teacher. You did a pretty good job, kid. You connected, you cared, you “got” that relationships is what really gets the job done. It’s going to be hard, but don’t give up. The struggle will be worth it.

Why did you become a teacher?
I became a teacher to share the beauty and power of language, poetry, and literature with young people. I remain a teacher because it’s the most important work I could ever do — to inspire and empower the next generation to change the world.  


Here’s what Louisiana seventh grade science teacher Joni Smith shared:

joni-smithTell a story about the funniest thing that’s happened to you in the classroom.
After asking my class how their weekend was, one of my students raised his hand and said, “Mrs. Smith, I saw you at the department store yesterday.” I responded, “Well why didn’t you come tell me hello?” He said, “My dad wouldn’t let me because you were shopping for bras.” The class exploded in laughter. Joining in on their laughter, I then said,”Teachers are people too you know?” Sometime students forget that part. 

What advice would you give to the first-year-of-teaching version of yourself?
Not everything will go according to plan, and that’s okay. As first year teachers, we strive for perfection and if I could do it over again, I would be more flexible. I would not be afraid to take risks or to fail. I would focus on what is best for students and not what is best for the framework of a lesson plan. 

Why did you become a teacher?
I became a teacher so that I could help young people believe that they have a purpose; to inspire them to be successful and to leave a positive footprint behind them no matter where they go.


Here’s what Arizona first grade teacher Dayna Burke shared:

dayna-burkeIf you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?
I would have the power to pause time; think Zack Morris in Saved by the Bell, but without the rest of the people around me pausing. I can’t count the number of times I’ve wished for more time on a family vacation, for this day to not end, to keep my son, Owen, at this age a little bit longer.

Tell a story about the funniest thing that’s happened to you in the classroom.
I teach first grade and have often wished I kept a detailed journal of the little one-liners they say, usually in all seriousness, that I often forget by the end of the day!  One of my favorites was a joke a little guy told me.

Him: Mrs. Burke, I know why the ocean is blue! 

Me: You do? Why? 

Him: Because all the fish are down there going “blue, blue, blue” (while making a fish face).

I still giggle picturing it!

What advice would you give to the first-year-of-teaching version of yourself?
I’d remind myself that it’s okay to ask for help! No one expects any teacher, let alone a newbie, to be perfect. They expect you to ask for help, but don’t know what you need unless you speak up. Find someone to look up to and seek their advice. A quality mentor is invaluable! Also, chicken patty on a bun day in the cafeteria is the best. 


Many teachers make a difference in the lives of kids. Join us in celebrating them throughout this week.

Click here to see the teachers featured yesterday!