Below is the text of the speech I gave at the Teacher Induction Program for new teachers.
This clip by Taylor Mali is one of my favorites. I watch it before the beginning of every school year and it helps focus me on the work that we do to support teachers in our district. Yesterday, you heard from the members of the business community about their strong support for Henry County Schools and for the teachers we have here. Over the course of the past two days, you have heard about the vision to ensure the success for each student. You have learned about your area of curriculum, you have learned about classroom management, and you have learned about the importance of being passionate and engaged in the work you do every day.
As Taylor Mali points out so poignantly in his poem, teachers have with them an incredible level of influence and power to craft the experiences of young people. The vast majority of our Tipsters this year are secondary school teachers. As middle and high school teachers, you have a special and noteworthy challenge in front of you. You may hear some naysayers talk about how kids at 7th or 11th grade are a lost cause because they have already become who they will be. I challenge that supposition and I challenge you to do so early and often. From my own personal experience, the teachers I had in high school are the ones that had the most impact on me because I can remember them challenging me and allowing me to challenge them back intellectually. They helped to push me to find a course through life that would eventually lead me to here. You still have the influence, the power to make or break a child’s spirit.
High School teachers are near to my heart. My wife is a high school teacher here in Henry County. She teaches freshmen at Ola High School and coaches cheer leading. Every day she reminds me that our focus must be on supporting teachers here at the central office. She reminds me of how the decisions we make here, in our role of support those in the classroom, truly impact the work of teachers. I need to tell you a bit about my wife. I think my wife is phenomenal teacher. Not just because she is my wife, but because she is known as one of the toughest teachers at Ola. Kids dread going into her class as freshmen, but all the parents know they should be there. But she’s not a great teacher just because she lesson plans a 9 weeks at a time, she’s not a great teacher because she is the most amazingly efficient and effective grader I have ever seen, (its rare a paper isn’t turned back to a student with comments and entered in the grade book within 24 hours.) She’s not a great teacher just because she pushes kids to do more than they think they are capable of. She is all of those things. But what strikes me each day when she comes home is the stories she tells of how she is worried that her tone of voice or rushed end to a class may have impacted a student negatively. Her attention to those small details exhibit how deeply she cares about those unintentional moments that can so easily be overlooked.
Its not always the intentional things we do that impact students and their ability to be successful. So often, in the course of the day or the course of a semester, it is the unintentional things that we do that make a huge difference to a student. From the time the shy student in your class raised her hand meekly and you didn’t call on her and she never raised her hand again because you didn’t want to hear what she had to say, to the time you responded sharply with sarcasm to an incorrect answer and made a student fear opening his mouth again. Unintentional consequences from mostly harmless actions.
But it cuts both ways. There are the good things that come out of unintentional actions. The time you ask the trouble maker in class to be responsible for clicker that controls your PowerPoint and it pulls him into your lessons for good or the time you use a sample of writing of a student anonymously to demonstrate excellence and that student decides to become an author. Unintentional consequences surround us every day as teachers. Be mindful of the power and influence you have over the minds and spirits you are charged with every day. You have the power to change lives for good or for evil.
Every summer, the administrators from across the district come together for a leadership retreat. This past summer, I told the administrators that we are at a great cross roads in education in Georgia.
With the AYP waiver and the new CCRPI being put in place, with the adoption of the CCGPS, with the implementation of the POINT in Henry County, and with the increased prevalence of technology and the opportunities that new technologies offer we are at a place of great opportunity. We have the opportunity to take hold of educating our kids in ways that are innovative, transformative, and revolutionary. We have an obligation to create a school experience profoundly different from our own experiences for the students that come to our schools on August 6th.
We are doing that with a multitude of programs in Henry County. This year, we are launching Impact Academy, a full time enrollment online program for 8th, 9th, and 10th graders that allows students to take most or all of their coursework online, yet still be a part of their home school for electives like band or FACS or play on the football team. It is program built on flexibility, accessibility and customization that still maintains a high level of rigor for the students.
Here in Henry County High School, we house the Academy for Advanced Studies where students engage in CTAE coursework, dual enrollment coursework with local universities, and where they work to get industry certification to be job ready upon graduation. Next year, we will open the Academy for Advance Studies as a Charter College and Career Academy that will allow all high school students the opportunity to enroll in these programs while maintaining their enrollment at their home school.
Here in Henry County, we have students who graduate from high school in four years and at the same time they received an associate’s degree through our dual enrollment and articulated coursework. They have two years of college paid for and completed as they walk across the stage to receive their high school diploma.
Here in Henry County Schools, we have nationally acclaimed ROTC teams, bands that have traveled the world to play for royalty, and Zell Miller Scholars receiving full ride scholarships to Georgia Tech. We are a district focused on ensuring success for each student and we take that charge seriously.
I shared yesterday that I left Henry County in 2003 to pursue my Master’s degree at Harvard University. Upon graduation, I had the opportunity and choice to go anywhere in the world to make use of that degree. I chose to come back to Henry county because of the school system and the belief that I had then and still hold today that this is a great place to teach and to learn because it continues to get better each day in every classroom. Each year we welcome new teachers to Henry county Schools through TIP and encourage them to make the most of each and every day they have with our students. This year you join the ranks of accomplished educators. As you step into your classroom this year,
I charge you with becoming the best teacher you know. I encourage you to own the title of teacher. I dare you to sculpt your classroom in the image of success and excellence that every child in Henry County deserves. Finally, I challenge you to be miracle worker everyday.