How Can I Better My Local Community?

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A Facebook friend, discussing her yard work, meant to write, “Mostly I want to water where I’ve planted.”

What she actually wrote was, “Mostly I want to water where I’m planted.”

I live and work in the same city where I teach; I moved here after I was hired, right before starting the school year. I felt it was important to be an invested person in my community, because I believe public education belongs to the public, not just teachers, students, and parents.

There are some struggles coming up for this city. A local factory is idling around the end of the month, and that means a loss of over four hundred jobs. The only grocery store left in the northern part of town stopped stocking fresh meat and produce, sparking rumors of an imminent closing. And those rumors aren’t unreasonable, either: another store in the same chain on the east side of town shuttered suddenly just over a year ago, and its space remains empty to this day. If this other store also closes, the northern part of town will become more of a food desert than it already is. And, anecdotally, the biggest barrier for people in that part of town to getting groceries is actually transportation. Having to travel farther is not going to help people. In fact, I can’t even think of any drugstores up around there where people could even just get snowstorm basics like milk, bread, and eggs.

So, as a teacher, how can I help solve these problems in my local community? I can care for, nurture, and educate children, sure. But I want to do more than just help them get through every day. I want to be a force for positive change for their families and their neighborhoods, too.

How can I do that? I have thoughts on where to start, but other ideas and resources are welcome.

I want to water where I’m planted.

Supporting Students by Supporting Teachers

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I attended a chorale concert yesterday. My mother-in-law performs twice a year with a chorale associated with a local university. Excitingly, they also invited the local high school chorale to perform with them. I sat next to a stranger and I chattered with her happily about how cool it was that our district’s students had the chance to perform for a new audience.

At some transitional point between songs, this person passed me their phone, on which they had typed up a note. I don’t remember it word for word, but the gist was that, as a teacher, I had the ability (and responsibility) to positively impact students’ lives. I do remember the last sentence: “You may be just what they need.”

I took this as both a reminder of my responsibility as an educator, and as encouragement. It was a reminder because this stranger did not have a child or even a relative going through public schools, but as part of the community she is just as invested in local public education as anybody else. After all, shouldn’t she care that the students we graduate are ready to be good citizens? Shouldn’t she care that they engage in their community? Shouldn’t she care that they are prepared for jobs in and around our area, especially if they end up doing a job that she relies on them to be good at?

I also took it as encouragement, which is I think the spirit in which the message was intended. And that’s fine, because I think teachers need encouragement and support in order to do our jobs effectively. So much of teaching is giving encouragement and support to students. We have a phrase, “running out of patience,” that acknowledges that the intangible quality of patience is one that may come in limited stores. I think other intangible qualities — compassion and understanding, for example — may also come in limited stores. So when I need to use up all my patience for a particular student, it helps when someone else shows me patience in return, to help restore my own capacity for patience.

The last couple of staff meetings we’ve had at our school have largely been about the topic of leadership, but with the underlying message of the importance of our relationships. We talked about how having positive relationships with students correlates to positive impacts on grades, and potentially over other indicators of well-being. Having good relationships between teachers and students positively impacts school culture as well, since it helps students develop socially as well.

Students do better when they feel supported by their teachers. And teachers? Teachers do better when we feel supported by our communities.