It’s that time of year when students from pre-K to college make the pilgrimage back to the land of learning armed with pencils, paper and books, but school is really so much more than academics. In the district where I work, school starts on Tuesday. Teachers have been back at it for over a week, sitting in meetings, planning with colleagues, learning about new gradebook systems and getting their rooms set up for the kids. In my district though, especially at my school, the focus this year is not on standardized tests, football games or common assessments. The focus and most important thing we’ve been asked to do– no, we been charged to do – is to build relationships with our students.
I’ve worked for many different building principals, all of whom had something positive to bring to the job. By far though, the best principal I’ve ever worked for is my current principal, Dr. Davis Denny. You see, Dr. Denny is not your typical “monkey see – monkey do, tow the party line” type of principal. Dr. Denny is truly one of a kind and this is because of his genuine love and care for every teacher, staff member, custodian, lunch worker, and most importantly, every student that comes to EVHS. If our district’s goal this year is to build relationships with students, then he is the poster child for the cause. The kids, both attending and graduated, simply love him. It’s not because he makes sure they get to class on time or that they ace the AP exam. No, it’s because they can see that he truly cares about each and every one of them and wants them to succeed in whatever they do in whatever way makes them happy. This love of student success has filtered over from Dr. Denny to all the adults in the school. Even me.
Prior to coming to EVHS, I was, I’m sorry to say, a 20 year veteran teacher who was consumed with covering the curriculum and having my kids pass whatever state test was given that year. We worked hard and my kids learned a lot about literature and writing, but I learned very little about them. Sure, I knew who the athletes and cheerleaders were because they wore special uniforms on game days, but I didn’t really KNOW the majority of my students, nor was I given the time to make that happen. When I started at EVHS in 2014, I really thought it was just going to be more of the same – administering tests, looking at test data, evaluating why this percentage of my students passed the state test and why another percentage didn’t and then working overtime to get them to pass it the next time. Boy, was I wrong!
No, at my current school, state test scores are important, yes, but they are not the end-all and be-all of what being an East View Patriot is all about. The difference is evident from the minute you walk in the building; it’s palpable and almost tangible. The kids know that, when they become a Patriot, they become part of a family. They are given a myriad of chances to succeed, but also given the safety to fall and get back up again. Their worth is not based on a test score or on a winning play and they see this early on in their first year. The students learn not only what is in the state directed curriculum, but also how to support each other, how to be team players, and how to take risks and, in the big picture of life, those ideas are so much more important that any sort of test score.
I’m a bit of a slow learner though and am afraid of change, so I’ve been slow to alter my teacher mindset. However, as I start my 3rd year as part of the Patriot family, I’m determined to take the plunge, feet first, all in. I’m going to work at being less rigid and I want to help my students (and myself) see that it’s not MY classroom – it’s OUR classroom. We’re a family, on good days and bad days, and we can get through whatever this year throws at us, but we have to do it together.
And finally, on a much more personal note, I so desperately wish that Peyton were here to experience the amazing things that happen at what would have been his high school. This is the 2nd start of school without him; he would be starting his sophomore year. This would be a year of driver’s ed., dating, more difficult homework and much more independence and freedom. He would have thrived at EVHS because of the accepting and loving attitude of everyone in the building. I know he would have found his niche and would be carving his own path. I just wish he could have held on for a little while longer. I just wish that I could witness all of the greatness in him that was to come. Instead, my students will get to know him through my “Peyton stories” and, hopefully, by the end of the year, they’ll consider him part of the family too.
As we gear up for another school year, whether you’re a parent, student, teacher or all three, remember that you set the stage for what happens in the next 10 months. You get to decide how you’ll be remembered. You get to decide what sort of relationships you will forge and what sort of memories you’ll create.
To borrow from Dr. Denny, I’ll leave you with this – “Make it a great [year] or not; the choice is always yours.”