Today, I had the wonderful opportunity to go into Judia Jackson Harris elementary school and watch one of the best elementary teachers in the country spend her (for the foreseeable future) last hours with a class of first-graders. To make it even more special, this class of 16 was with her last year as kindergartners and “looped” up with her this year. The connections and relationships with the children and their families has been incredible – this was evident by the fact that just about everyone of the families came today to the end of the year picnic (by the end of the day, Jen only led 6 of her 16 kids out to the buses because the others had ridden home with their families!).
I had the chance to see the student-teachers that worked with Jen this semester and know just how well they will go on to teach (when they finally get an opportunity to do so thanks to the dramatic cuts to education).
I had the chance to see amazing teachers pass out hand-made gifts that they had spent endless nights creating.
I had the chance to see the wonderful atmosphere of cooperation and community as every class lined the hallways out to the buses and cheered as the “graduating” fifth-grade classes walked by (many with tears in their eyes).
Of the many chances I have had to be present and engage with this particular PUBLIC school – the administration, the teachers, the staff, and the children – it has been amazing. Jen has been part of this community for the past two years. She taught at another school in Clarke County two years before that. She taught one year in South Fulton before that and she taught three years in Atlanta Public Schools, where it all began for her. Unfortunately, I cannot say that all of these experiences have had such an impressive ethos of community and cooperation (looking at you administration), but the classroom ethos was always amazing.
And that’s because of the kids and it’s because of Jen.
All of the late nights, all of the exhausted Friday nights and Saturday mornings, all of the lesson plans, cutting, laminating, folding, coloring, posting, and the millions of purchased snacks for games. Somewhere in there, she still maintained a dedication to the children that was over and above. And of course, anyone who knows a great teacher knows that it’s not just dedication to them, it’s love for them.
That’s what I would see every time I walked into that school and into her classroom.
It provided the kids with a sense of community between one another, developed a respect between the kids where they could work out their own problems, and supported each and every one of them as they would try something new, do something creative, or share something personal.
And when the love goes into all of the preparation and implementation, it transforms the entire place: These children weren’t just learning how to read, they were developing a passion to read. And they weren’t just learning how to write, they were utilizing all of their creativity to write these outlandish and awesome stories, like one where Rosa Parks enters into a time-traveling machine to go back in time and meet all of these cool people, like Abraham Lincoln! They weren’t just learning about how they should think, they were learning how to think critically — and they’re 6!
I’m extremely grateful for Jen and her dedication, work, and creativity to teach so many children so many wonderful things, and to inspire them with a passion to want to learn.
And I’m extremely grateful for every other teacher out there like her, that understands what education is all about.
Now, if anyone has any investment opportunities, please let me know. Each and every year since Jen began teaching, she has promised the children that each and every one of them is to call her when they are about to graduate college, and she will come fly out to watch them walk across the stage, and then take them out to dinner.
It’s going to get pretty expensive.
Last night, after she had already fallen asleep, I asked Jen if she had told her class the very same thing – that she would come and watch them graduate and take them out to dinner?
She said “no.”
I was surprised.
I said, “no? why?”
She replied, “because I will come and visit them whenever they call me.”
That is a teacher.