Teacher Appreciation Day

What matters most? Recent research has shown that the most important contributor to student learning success is the teacher. Beyond class size, socio-economic status, or program emphasis, the teacher- what they do, how they create learning opportunities and the relationships they build with students- is what matters most.

Recently, I’ve experienced this first hand. And trust me, it matters.

The first time I threw my back out was over 20 years ago. The cause is mysterious, but tends to be blamed on a combination of genetics, lifestyle (stress) and good old, bad luck. The first time it happened I was a new college graduate unsure of my next move when bending over to gather the laundry out of the dryer, I suddenly couldn’t get up.

Years later, the same thing happened. (Different countries, different scenarios- but the same exact pain and inability to move.) The change for me though, was my devotion to do what needed to be done to never, never have my back blow out again. In a nutshell, I became committed to Pilates as a way to strengthen and lengthen all the muscles in and around my back.

Fast forward and it’s two years ago when my inexcusable and yet very human relaxing of the rules (read: I stopped going to Pilates) landed me right back on my back, and essentially in a pickle. Struggling, but staunch in my decision, I joined a studio and began the long, difficult road back to commitment.

Initially, I was unable to differentiate between what was working and what wasn’t in the various classes I was attending. The whole idea of getting stronger and better was a mountain bigger than I thought possible to climb. However, with practice I did indeed improve and gain back the mobility and confidence necessary to walk, sit, stand and move without fear.

However, it wasn’t until this August that I moved out of approaching the “standard” of mobility and began to wade into pushing into my particular and individual program of both need and true progress.

What is the difference? Quite simply it is my new teacher.

With other instructors I was part of the pack, reaching for the same goal even though I was behind: there due to an injury while others were trying to fit into smaller clothes. We had a routine, completed with fidelity at each session. I knew it by heart. In fact, I probably didn’t need an instructor to complete it. In that state, I was not growing or reaching. I was simply showing up and blindly going through the motions.

However, my new instructor isn’t doing what she always does, she isn’t teaching the “course”. Instead, she is intent on learning about each of us in the class; then tailoring her instruction to fit our needs and modifying it- sometimes right in the moment, to make sure it fits. She uses formative assessment techniques to see how we are doing and then changes her plans based on our performance. Our summative assessments always involve a performance task. And while I don’t receive a report card, I do know more about my ability in relation to the Intermediate Level (not to brag) targets than I ever knew before.

In just a few weeks, I’ve developed more strength, and confidence about my back than I was able to gain in all of last year’s classes combined.  (I’ve estimated it was about 80 hours worth of my time and money.) The machines aren’t different. I’m not going to lengthier sessions. Nor is my progress due to a new diet, or chic workout clothes.

The only difference is my teacher.

She is really good at what she does. And what she does is spend time discovering who I am and what I need; then she tailors her teaching to my needs.

Isn’t that what good teaching is all about?

Photo credit: http://arrowwoodbrainerdlodge.com/assets/caches/images/assets/users/general/bullseye-544×299.jpg

About Jen Munnerlyn

Jen Munnerlyn is the Elementary Principal at the American School of Warsaw. Her international experience began back in 1980 when her parents first started teaching overseas. Jen blogs about her own experiences as a Third Culture Kid, the adventures of being the mother of a TCK, and about elementary education in an international school setting. Her picture book The Adventure Begins, about the first day at an international school, is a favorite among adults and students abroad.
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