Shekema Holmes Silveri is the chair of the English Department and AP Literature/AP Language teacher at Mt. Zion High School in Jonesboro, Ga. She is also the founder of Silveri Service Learning Academy, a charter high school scheduled to open in 2013. For more on Shekema, watch this report from CNN.
As a mother, I care about what kind of world my four children will inherit. As a teacher, I have the same concerns, only now about many more children. I wake up each morning thinking of how I can change the world by improving their lives. I view teaching as “nation building” and am passionate about making the most of every opportunity to prepare the next generation of leaders and teachers for their own callings.
Like all good teachers, I try to be reflective. One measure of my effectiveness is my students’ interpretation of their experiences in my classroom. I find it offensive to try to measure teachers’ effectiveness without consulting the students we serve. So, as I was writing this piece, I used social media to ask my current and former students three questions:
1. Why do you think I teach?
2. Was I an effective teacher?
3. What do you believe I expect(ed) of you?
Their responses varied in nature, based in part upon the individual relationships I had with each them. Cassie Knighten, a 2009 graduate of Riverdale High School, suggested via Facebook:
I think you teach because you genuinely care about educating the younger generations in and out of the classroom. Nobody can deny it is your calling. You’re effective because you give everything you have when it comes to teaching and you never give up. You see the potential in your students and strive to bring out nothing but the best. You build a bond where students feel comfortable about expressing themselves and letting their true creativity and intelligence shine through. When it came to me, I know you expected nothing less than greatness.
I know that my job isn’t simply to prepare them for the AP English exams or to get them to walk across the stage at end of the year. That’s why I’ve embedded critical literacy, service learning, and global citizenship practices within my pedagogy. Combined with an increased focus on both digital and media literacies via the use of technology, each of these types of learning should prepare my students for culturally responsive, civically engaged, socially just lives.
I hope my classroom is filled with opportunities for personal growth and development. Random acts of kindness are a significant component of our praxis. I encourage my students to find three people to bless each day.
“Just do something good for at least three people who least deserve and/or expect it,” I tell them, “because when you’re more focused on doing good in the lives of others than on your own problems, life feels so much better.”
Thus, my classroom is filled with opportunities for my students’ personal growth and development.
I constantly tell my high school students I love them because a simple truth of life is that love makes things grow. After all, how can we expect our students to care how much we know until we are first willing to show them how much we care? In my classroom, my students understand that I love the people in the seats far more than I love teaching the eight parts of speech.
My advice to any beginning teacher is to first examine your motives. Determine why you decided to teach. If your response is that you love your content more than you love your people, please find a new profession. To be a good teacher, you must be prepared to encourage, to sacrifice for, but most of all, to love your students. At the end of the day, love for each other is all we have. It will let you rise above the low pay, the long hours, the negative press and the other challenges we teachers face.