Here are the prepared remarks from Stefani Cook, the 2011 Idaho Teacher of the Year, delivered at the IEA's 119th Delegate Assembly on April 16.
Wow—what a remarkable gathering of educators we have in this room today! I know that each one of you is gifted and passionate about the work you do. Together we share the same vision of what teaching and learning can be. It’s our similarities that unite us today. It’s the commitment to the teaching profession that I share with Esther; the methodologies I share with Allan; the interest in students I share with Julie; and the pursuit of ideas that I share with Lori. It is about purpose that I share with everyone here today.
I’d like to begin by talking about three words that we have ALL heard plenty of lately—“Students Come First.” As I’ve thought about my past 19 years in education and all the amazing educators that I have had the privilege of working with and learning from—every single one of them has PUT STUDENTS FIRST. To further illustrate this, I took the liberty of getting some of the “latest” test scores posted on the Idaho State Department of Education’s website: Here’s what I found:
· 2009-2010 Adequate Yearly Progress Report—92.1% of Idaho’s Students are Proficient in Reading, exceeding the proficiency goal of 85.6%; and 88.2% of Idaho’s students are proficient in Math, exceeding the goal of 83% proficiency.
· The 2009-2010 Graduation Rate—91.7%, exceeding the graduation goal of 90%.
· Winter 2009—Idaho Reading Indicator, 78% of Idaho’s Kindergartners are reading at grade level and 83% of Idaho’s First graders are reading at grade level.
Now you all know as well as I do that teachers should never be judged only on the test scores of their students alone. It’s a much more complex issue than that. It’s impossible to see the entire scope of a teacher’s work from an isolated test score. More importantly, measuring a teacher’s success should come from looking at how their students APPLY what they learn in the classroom as well as outside the classroom. There is a huge difference between an evaluation for learning and an assessment for learning.
I ask—Are we Putting Students First?
As I think about the past 18 months of my career, I know across the state most teachers are educating at a higher level with very limited resources! To you all, my hat is off. Thank you, thank you, and thank you for the hard work that you render on behalf of Idaho’s students. Thank you for PUTTING STUDENTS FIRST each and every day.
President John F. Kennedy once said, “Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education. The human mind is our fundamental resource.” It’s all of YOU who are entrusted every day with that awesome responsibility.
I know that many of you would agree with me that our greatest contributions are OUR students. That is true of us as a culture as well—our greatest gift is what we do for the next generation, the sacrifices we make, the patterns we define, and all that we do to give our own children and students the opportunities that we never envisioned. You all have devoted your lives to your profession and for that I honor you and thank you.
Today, I leave you with a challenge: BE AN ADVOCATE FOR THE WORK THAT WE ARE ALL DOING!! Be an advocate for our profession.
Many of us most likely became teachers because someone saw something in us that we didn’t see in ourselves. Your task now is to do the very same thing for your students and give them encouragement. See something in each and every one of your students. In front of us all is the collective responsibility to create hope and opportunity for every child across this great state. The children of today are 5% of the population but represent 100% of the future. When we see the potential in our students that they cannot see in themselves, we secure a future of hope and promise for them.
As I think of my own students in my classroom and I listen to them, their messages are very clear: Emily would say that she deserves valuable learning experiences; Courtney would want to be seen as an individual, not as a number or a score on an exam; Cree would shout for innovative curriculum; Dan would say he deserves passionate teachers. They all would say that they need 21 Century teachers, not just adults teaching in the 21 Century.
It is true: We are facing very, very tough times in education. We hear many things in the news media about what education should and shouldn’t be. Many things we may agree with; other things we would disagree with. President Obama spent about one third of his State of the Union Address speaking of education reform.
You all know that I am a teacher just like you. But, I am also a wife, a daughter, a sister, a neighbor, a friend, and a mother. The dream my husband and I have for our three small children is, I know, the same dream that all parents share—that our children be recognized for and learn to capitalize on their strengths, not to be judged for their limitations, and to learn how to confront their weakness so that their potential is endless. Yes, the dream we have for our students is the same dream all parents share for their children and grandchildren.
One day a couple of months ago when school was cancelled because of the weather, I got to stay home with my own children—what a great treat! My 6 year-old daughter, Saylor, wanted to play school. She lined up her dolls and stuffed animals and asked me to play school with her. She told me that I got to be the “teacher.” Of course, I was beaming with pride and my heart was warmed. She said, “Okay, you give me work, I’ll do it, and then you tell me if it’s wrong.”
I have to tell you, I was a bit horrified by her remarks and the big smile on my face quickly faded away. Is this what our schools look like? Is this what school is all about—keeping order, creating systems, giving assignments, giving grades? I asked myself, “Are we playing the game of school and not teaching?” Are we creating 21st Century learners?
I strongly believe that it is our collective responsibility to go beyond the game of school and create places where students flourish because of the system and not in spite of it.
Today our world is diverse, globalized, and technology-rich. Yes, technology is changing at an exponential rate. We won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st Century. It will be something more like 20,000 years of progress at today’s rate! Yes, our students are technology savvy. It surrounds them. My own children know more about my smart phone than I do. Yes, we must create a generation of problem solvers. Growing up, my parents would say to me, “Eat your dinner, there are people starving in China.” Now I tell my own students, “Finish your homework because there are people in China and India starving for our jobs!”
I believe as educators in the 21st Century, we need to:
· Set high and consistent standards for learning.
· Design new accountability systems that drive innovation and improvement.
· Use technology effectively to support teaching.
· Redesign a system that supports our teachers and leaders.
In a 21st Century classroom, our students must be taught how to “wonder.” Instead of wondering “why,” they need to wonder “why not?” Then after wondering why not, they need to wonder “what if?” Our most important actions will not be the assessments we give, the technology we integrate, or the mandates we pass. Our most significant action will be the communication that we have with our students. In fact, many of you will spend more time with your students than they spend with their own parents! You are an integral part of providing guidance, curiosity, and purpose.
I challenge you to think about why your students are learning whatever subject matter is set before them and find an answer that is more than “because it’s in the book.” Continually work toward deep content knowledge, show students the corridor to learning, and take academic risks when necessary. Nothing is more powerful than a teacher who is a learner. We must sit next to our students and learn with them.
In our classrooms shouldn’t we hear and feel the energy of questions—and student’s questions, not teacher’s questions. At parent teacher conferences shouldn’t I know my students well enough to converse with parents about what their child is learning rather than just talking about scores and grades?
On your drive home each night, spend some time thinking about the day, the month, or even the year. What did your students do well? What still needs improvement? Every year we as teachers must reinvent ourselves because students’ needs change every year, don’t they?
I challenge you to think outside the box and do things that may appear to be controversial but will in fact help students reach their full potential.
Great teaching isn’t magic, but it creates magical moments through effective dialogue, through habits of mind, and through calculated, meticulous teaching methodologies.
In closing today, I’d like to share a favorite inspirational poem entitled,
What Teachers Make—Taylor Mali
The dinner guests were sitting around the table
discussing life. One man, a CEO, decided to explain
the problem with education. He argues:
“What’s a kid going to learn from someone who decided
his best option in life was to become a teacher?
He reminded the other dinner guests that it’s true
what they say about teachers: “Those who can … do
Those who can’t … teach.
To corroborate, he said to another guest: “You’re a
teacher, Susan,” he said. “Be honest. What do you make?”
Susan, who had a reputation of honesty and frankness,
replied, “You want to know what I make?”
I make kids work harder than they ever thought they
could. I can make a C+ feel like a Congressional Medal
of Honor and an A- feel like a slap in the face if the
student did not do his or her very best.”
“I can make kids sit through 40 minutes of study hall
in absolute silence.”
“I can make parents tremble in fear when I call home.”
“You want to know what I make?”
“I make kids wonder.”
“I make them question.”
“I make them criticize.”
“I make them apologize and mean it.”
“I make them write.”
“I make them read, read, read,”
“I make them spell definitely beautiful, definitely
beautiful, and definitely beautiful over and over and
over again, until they will never misspell either one
of those words again.”
“I make them show all their work in math and hide it
all on their final drafts in English.”
“I make them understand that if you have the brains,
then follow your heart…and if someone ever tries to
judge you by what you make, you pay them no
“You want to know what I make?”
“I make a difference.”
“And you? What do you make?”
Please, let’s not lose our Honor, Grace, and Respect for education through some sweeping mandates and changes. Teachers in the classroom are oh so vital and important! 21St Century classrooms must be guided by teachers! I challenge you all to Continue Putting Students First, Be an Advocate for our Profession, and Make a Difference—because you can!!!