Editorial: With Gratitude for the Gifts

by Dr. Jill Klefstad - UW Stout

Gratitude is the quality of being thankful, showing appreciation for, and returning kindness. Having just celebrated Thanksgiving, it is impossible to negate the meaning of the holiday especially from the perspective of an educator.

Sometimes, in the day-to-day happenings of being a teacher it is easy to become overwhelmed when negative aspects of teaching come into focus. At those times I attempt to shift my thinking from the undesirable characteristics to the multitude of gifts that come from being a part of the teaching profession.

Gifts come in different shapes and sizes but typically gift is defined as something given willingly to someone without payment. A person's natural ability or talent can also be considered a gift. As we enter the gift-giving season, it seems appropriate to identify some gifts that all of us may receive as teachers. I choose to address these gifts within three categories: 1. Gifts considered personal attributes, 2. Gifts received as a member of an organized group, and 3. Gifts from colleagues.

Personal Attributes
Throughout my years of teaching I have acquired the ability to hone some crucial traits credited to good teachers. Sometimes these attributes have grown as a result of the experiences encountered but other times the attribute is something that accompanies a 'seasoned' teacher due in part to their experiences and reflections.
 
The first personal gift is that of patience. Patience includes the ability to accept and tolerate difficulty or trouble without getting angry. This attribute is first on my list because although there has been growth in this area, I feel that I need to develop more patience. My patience is most challenged when I can't meet the demands of my job or when students' needs are not being met. One thing that works for me in times when my patience is low is to be mindful of the moment. Just to stop and recognize the joy that comes with teaching has helped me to become more patient.

The second gift I have gained from being a teacher is that of fortitude. Fortitude is defined as the mental or emotional strength that allows us to preserve. There have been moments when I have felt exhausted and frustrated attempting to stay above the planning, instruction, and assessments needed to assure student success. What drives me to continue the effort is the belief that a teacher does make a difference in the life of a student.

Integrity is the third and most important gift that I believe I have gained from being a teacher. Integrity is the challenge to adhere to the moral and ethical principles upon which we think and act. Honest, truthful, and reliable are synonyms for integrity. When I teach with integrity, I am assured that all my actions will reflect what is best for students. Also, operating with integrity can serve as a model to others.  

Gifts of the Organization
In schools, teachers are considered as a "group" of men and women hired to instruct students. This group works together to help students succeed.
The third level of Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs is a sense of belongingness. Maslow states "we as humans need to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance among the groups we relate to". For me, being a member of the teaching organization has given me confidence, support, and encouragement to stay in the field and to work hard to become an effective teacher.

As I reflect upon my journey in the profession, my membership began as an undergraduate student in the early childhood education courses I took Over the years, this membership has evolved to include affiliation to organizations at the state, national, and international levels. I am honored to belong to the National Association of the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and also to the Menteach, an organization that supports male teachers in early education.

Being a member of these organizations allows me to define my personal strengths as a teacher and to work with others on a larger scale, to pursue the passions we have regarding education. Any organization, large or small, can offer the encouragement and support needed while tackling the demands of teaching. As members of the teaching profession we must also celebrate the work each of us does that impacts the lives of students.

Gifts from Colleagues
Through my years of teaching, I have discovered that the most significant benefit of belonging to the profession is the opportunity to work with colleagues. While there are some peers who make be difficult to relate to, there are others who you find a personal and professional connection with.  These colleagues often share a similar work ethic, will challenge you to think critically, empathize with you, and are first to celebrate accomplishments.

Although we may not be acutely aware of the connection between colleagues, it seems as though subliminally we may be cognizant of the way they support us in our teaching career. Perhaps they have offered suggestions that assist in coping with a student, or have stood beside you as you defended your position on a heartfelt issue, or maybe they simply offer you a humorous side of life. We should all be that fortunate to work with someone whose presence helps us feel more courageous and determined in our own convictions and teaching practice.

During this holiday season, take some time to reflect upon the gifts that are bestowed upon you as teacher. With a grateful heart cultivate these gifts within the students you teach and among the colleagues who surround you. Take a moment to say thank you to those who have made a difference in your life. Happy Holidays!

[MenTeach: Dr. Jill has been working to increase and retain men in her education program. We asked her to write about her experiences as a woman facilitator. You can find the other articles here.]