About six years ago, I came to the tough realization that I may have been in alternative education too long. One of younger students raised his hand at the end of the day and said, “Mrs. Cipkowski, my daddy is taking mamma to Safe Haven tonight.” My mind began to race. I wondered what would happen to him. I thought for certain this mother was headed to a drug rehab or a mental health facility. I asked as gently as I could, “Sweetie, where are you going to stay while your Mommy’s away?” The child told me he would stay with his Nana. I was feeling relieved. I dared to ask, “How long will Mommy be gone?” (I know better. This question can be as dangerous as maneuvering an elephant through a mine field). He piped up quickly, “Aw, Just a few hours..... That is precisely the moment I realized, while I was envisioning a twelve step program, this boy was referring to the new Nicholas Sparks movie playing at the mall!! I had not taken into account it was Valentine’s Day weekend, or any other Friday night for that matter. I had simply drawn my own conclusion believing I know the ending to this (benign) true story.
I share that anecdote as a prerequisite to this hard earned lesson: As a teacher, I constantly must work on myself. As I write this, I unexpectedly find myself feeling very vulnerable. I struggle, sometimes daily, to silence my inner cynic. Over the past two decades as a classroom teacher I’ve seen a bit of everything. Most students that enter my classroom crave what we all want… simply to be understood. I have taught long enough that I have acquired an almost innate ability to size up a student. That ability in itself is not necessarily a negative. Within weeks, I can pinpoint a child’s strengths, weaknesses, and personality quirks. While I refuse to listen to any secondhand negative information about a student coming down the pike, the words “Nothing surprises me anymore.” have been known to flow freely from my lips on more than one occasion. Isn’t the former just as harmful to my teaching effectiveness as the aforementioned latter? I think so.
When Brady Ramey came calling (literally) with the offer of a job teaching high school English five years ago, I was a little intimated by the unknown, but I jumped at the chance. I’ve poured my heart into the job at Tremont Attendance Center and never regretted it. That’s the way I’ve chosen to do life – with passion. The irony: instead of sizing up students, the students were sizing up the new teacher with the Yankee last name. I think its safe to say, I’ve won over most of the student body and faculty just by being myself. I keep wondering when the administration will warm up to me…. (simmer down, simmer down…. My bosses have been supportive of my ability to find humor in the ridiculous and my love of learning and passing that on to our students.)
My point is this: One of my goals is to continue to view every situation and every student with a fresh pair of eyes. A fresh pair of eyes in no way means that I am naïve or blind. It means that every day, I choose to be optimistic about the state of education. I choose to be a positive influence on my students and, to be more precise, every person that crosses my path. There are days that this choice requires more effort than others. There are days that I am required to check myself. I am not only employed to teach, I must allow myself, even after 20 years in, to learn from those with a less cloudy life lens of experience than me. In the words of Winston Churchill, I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught.