As 2017 draws to a close, many look to the new year as a fresh start. Still, wonderful though it can be, we know the holiday season can also be exhausting! With that in mind, the Chalk team talked to teachers and administrators from across North America to learn more about what keeps them motivated as educators. Whether you’re in the midst of setting goals, planning dates with friends and loved ones, or are researching ways to inspire this generation of learners (most likely, a combination of all three!), we hope these stories inspire you as we head into 2018.

Find Your Balance

Everyone works towards balancing success and happiness in their lives. Sometimes, though, it takes a little while to figure out how to meet that goal. Nicole Shaw, a teacher from Guttenberg, Iowa, shared how she found that balance while taking the long way around to her career in education. Although her kindergarten teacher was one of her childhood heroes, Nicole’s interest in becoming a teacher waned in her teens. Nicole recalls how she had gone to college, taken her LSAT, and had been accepted into law school, when she realized she might be on the wrong career path.

“My family never pursued higher education, [but] they did pursue careers and trades that made them happy every single day. The thoughts of being a lawyer didn’t give me that sense of pride or happiness. A few months after graduation, my college diploma was displayed prominently on my office shelf, but I didn’t feel happy. I spent a few days in deep reflection. Where did I fit? Where could I find the happiness I so badly desired? No matter how many times I tried to ignore the urge, my mind kept wandering back to my childhood and playing school.”

With new determination, Nicole decided to pursue her Masters in secondary education, and is now a high school English and English as a Second Language teacher. It’s a choice she’s glad she made, noting that: “Every morning when my alarm sounds, I am excited to go to work… I may have taken the long way to become a teacher, but I am thankful I can spend my entire working career doing what I love and loving what I do.”

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Following In Their Footsteps

That same love for teaching can be sparked at home, too. Many educators we talked to had stories of a grandparent or parent whose tenacity, patience, and passion shaped their lives.

It can happen in small moments, like the ones that Margie Anderson remembers sharing with her father: “…the smartest man I have ever known,” she says, “even though he only had an 8th grade education. He loved to read Dr. Seuss to me when I was a child, and studied history with me in high school. I am now an elementary librarian, and still love Dr. Seuss!”

Sometimes, our family members are trailblazers who help both our family and our communities grow, and in that way, Pamela White’s aunt, Louise Pearson, is her inspiration. When growing up, Pamela says, “My aunt raised me after the death of my grandmother (her big sister). Not only was she a wonderful teacher, she is the backbone of my family and a pillar of the community…

“She taught for 36 years in the Public Schools of Robeson County in North Carolina. After retirement, she served as a substitute teacher for many years before we convinced her that she deserved some time for herself. She made history in the small town of St. Pauls, NC, where we are from, by being not only the first African American voted to be a Town Commissioner, but also the first woman. She is my history-making Superwoman, and I love her to life.”

Pamela followed in her aunt’s footsteps, and is now a seventh grade Language Arts teacher in Moyock, North Carolina.

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Pass on Your Passion

Sometimes — one might even argue often — the students and young people around us inspire us, too. Whether from fellow students that encouraged us to excel during our years in school, from students we’re teaching now, or from siblings’ stories about class trips or science lab adventures, their excitement can encourage us to try new things or reach for a distant goal. When she was growing up, Alyssa Van Houten says, this was the case with her older sister, who would always come home from school with great stories.

“All I remember was Aubrey coming home after buying and selling mock stocks with Mrs. Goltra in math. She couldn’t stop talking about how much fun she had… and to a little sister, that actually sounded like the best thing in the world. In that moment, I thought ‘I’m pretty smart, right? I need to try really hard and maybe I could learn from Mrs. Goltra too.’

“A year later, I walked into Mrs. Goltra’s room for the first time, and it felt like home. We talked about math equations and read exciting stories with characters that broke my heart. I met students that were not in my grade or any of my normal classes (one girl named Sormeh was even from Persia!), and these people eventually became my closest friends. We competed in Odyssey of the Mind, we directed our own short stories, and unknowingly, we were soaking up all the knowledge we could… I grew up with a love of learning without even realizing it.”

Today, as a high school teacher herself, Alyssa says that in a way, things have gone full-circle. “I never got to thank Mrs. Goltra for inspiring me, and I don’t know if she will ever know. But the older I get and the more students I teach, I am realizing that recognition is not what it’s about. I love to teach, I love my students, but most of all, I love that I see a bit of my own wonder in them.”

So, here’s to wonder. Here’s to inspiring it, here’s to finding (at least a little of) it, and here’s to a wonderful New Year.

Wishing you and yours a very happy and healthy 2018, from everyone at Chalk!