January/February 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 4

Welcome Back!

Posted: Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

by Laura Henriques

I love the start of a new school year! While I have yet to start a year without wishing for just one more week before school starts, I am always eager to get back into the classroom to be with the students. I’ve worked in elementary, middle, secondary and post-secondary classrooms and it’s the kids that keep me going. They challenge me to be a better teacher and a better person as I endeavor to help them develop into the best versions of themselves. What a great responsibility and awesome opportunity we have each year! The work we do, day after day, enables students to learn and grow. Parents send us their children, trusting that we are going to do what we can to help them blossom into productive, kind, learned people. We are privileged to play a role in this process.

I recently read a children’s book called The Three Questions (by Jon J. Muth, based on a short story by Tolstoy). The protagonist in the book asks three questions: When is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? What is the right thing to do? The answers to those questions serve as a gentle reminder to us as we step back into the classroom.

When is the best time to do things?

There is only one important time, and that time is now.

The time we spend with our students is our most important time. We need to be sure that when we enter the classroom we have done all we can to ensure that it is quality time. We need to be well planned, create meaningful learning experiences that engage our learners, and take into account what we know excellent teaching and learning looks like. Each day we have with them matters. In spite of what it feels like in September, our time with students is very limited. We need to prioritize our learning goals, ensure that our time is efficiently and meaningfully used, and that the learning opportunities are maximized.

Who is the most important one?

The most important one is always the one you are with.

The reason we do what we do day after day, year after year, is the kids. While many of them already think that they are the center of the universe, when they are in our classrooms they should at least be the center of our universe. We need to give them our undivided attention and make sure that they know we are committed partners to their success. We must be sure that the units and lessons we teach are created with them in mind. Lessons need to be developmentally appropriate, student centered, allow for differentiation (we all know that a class is filled with students of varying abilities and backgrounds), and be engaging. This is a tall order to fill, but it is what we are charged to do as professionals.

What is the right thing to do?

The most important thing is to do good for the one who is standing at your side.

The most important thing we do is to help our students on their journey from child to adult. As they learn science content, scientific and engineering skills, and develop a sense of awe about the world around them, students are also learning how to learn. Empowering a student to be an independent learner, a critical thinker, a critical consumer of information is heady stuff. When a child (no matter what their age) leaves our room with these skills, we have provided them with tools that last a lifetime.

As you step back into the classroom this fall I encourage you to keep the story’s three questions and answers in mind. Make the brief time you have with your students – one year from their entire life – make that time important. Make the students with whom you work feel worthy and respected. Make what you do with them something worth doing.

On behalf of all the kids you’ll teach this year (most of who won’t think to tell you), thank you! Thanks for the time you take to grow as a professional, the effort you give to creating valuable learning opportunities, and the time you sacrifice away from family and loved ones to make learning and growth happen in your classroom. Have a great year.

Written by Laura Henriques

Laura Henriques

Laura Henriques is a professor of science education at CSU Long Beach and past-president of CSTA. She serves as chair of CSTA’s Nominating Committee and is a co-chair of the NGSS Committee.

One Response

  1. Thanks, Laura, for reminding us of what is important as we get wrapped up in the day to day chaos that is the start of school. I look forward to reading your column as the new CSTA President. Thank you for your vision and leadership.

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