By Angelique Nedved
Life Lessons From My Childhood Educators
Choosing education as a career came because of many lessons learned, restarts, and developing a deep understanding of what mattered most to me. The choice to become an educator, and dedicate my life to the education of others, was grounded in my belief that education is one of the most important roles undertaken in our society, and one of the greatest and most significant resources we have to empower individuals. As I reflect on my professional career as an educator and leader, to the front come lessons learned from the educators I experienced growing up. Their impact on my life has served me throughout my career, and I would like to share the gifts of those lessons learned with other professionals working in the space:
Be creative – Our youth will always need dynamic, high aiming educators to help us shape and create the best version of ourselves as a community. We have been fortunate in this country to have attracted some of the brightest and most creative individuals into teaching. As a Middle School Art Teacher, Mr. Knoll left a career in engineering to pursue a passion for the arts by working with youth to discover their creative side. He wasn’t afraid to follow his interests even though he was uncertain where those interests may take him. Having started my professional life as a creative designer in the business sector, I eventually found my way, leaving the corporate world of design for my own classroom as an Art Instructor.
Strength isn’t determined by size – The size of a person doesn’t translate to their power to change the world. Small can be mighty, and Mrs. Thiel proved this. As my high school math teacher, barely standing 5 feet tall, she commanded our classroom of adolescents, not with a loud voice or intimidating physical presence, but rather with a strength that comes from humility and quiet confidence. Some of our youngest and most vulnerable learners feel powerless and without voice, and educators can help students activate their voice and power for good. I learned the power of my own voice, and also an understanding of geometry, as a result of her.
Respect everyone – Mrs. Prell, my fifth-grade teacher, recognized the clumsy new student struggling to make friends and feeling defeated by her weekly spelling list. She devised a plan that helped me preserve my dignity while working on my weakness for decoding words. Most importantly she demonstrated how much she valued me as an individual – and recognized that I simply needed more time to grasp the new vocabulary, not lower grades, or humiliation in front of my peers. Through her plan, my spelling prowess turned the corner, as did my understanding of humanity.
Care for others – More teachers than I can name demonstrated the quality of looking out for others often, teaching with their hearts and connecting with students through daily lessons. As my first teachers, my parents encouraged me to find a career that was meaningful and that stood up for others. For me, I have found this meaningfulness through being an educator complimented by serving on the Board of Jewish Vocational Services where we aim to encourage and empower people.
Teachers are so much more than the content we teach; we have the opportunity to shape lives. I experienced great teachers who were patient, fair, set high expectations, and understood how to motivate me, ultimately shaping me as an educator. As I reflect on the lessons learned, I thank all of them for their impact in helping me stand in my truth and serve my community.