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Superintendent's Notebook: Great teachers change lives

Opinion

Superintendent's Notebook: Great teachers change lives

Wow.

That’s what I thought when I looked at the White House website on May 2 and saw President Barack Obama hugging Karen MacDonald, a teacher from King Middle School, at the ceremony honoring state Teachers of the Year.

Karen MacDonald, Maine’s 2014 Teacher of the Year, deserves every accolade given to her during her time in the spotlight. But she would be the first to acknowledge that she is one of many great teachers in the Portland Public Schools.

Great teachers play transformative roles in children’s lives. Nearly every successful adult can cite a teacher who made a crucial difference along the way.

It could be the early childhood teacher who instilled a love of reading, or the elementary school teacher who helped a child become facile and confident with numbers. It might be the middle school teacher who spent time after school coaching a sport. Perhaps it was a high school teacher who helped the student recognize and pursue his or her special talents.

Growing up in a public housing project, I had few positive role models. Mr. Glines, my sixth-grade teacher, was one. Firm but fair, he showed that he cared by staying late to watch our basketball games and calling our parents at night to report on our progress.

Mr. Glines took me aside and asked what I wanted to do when I grew up. I said I wanted to become a teacher and a lawyer. He assured me that I could fulfill that dream. He even helped me get started by giving me opportunities to lead the class and to try to persuade the principal to change school policies. Spurred on by his encouragement, I applied myself to schoolwork like never before.

What are the traits that make a great teacher?

One is the desire to continually improve one’s craft. That means learning from peers and pursuing professional development opportunities.

Our district recently honored 10 teachers who have earned National Board certification, the highest credential for K-12 educators. Only about 3 percent of U.S. teachers have National Board Certification. To earn it, they must analyze their teaching context and students’ needs, submit videos of their teaching and provide student work samples that demonstrate growth and achievement.

Karen MacDonald is one of those teachers. She also has earned an endorsement in teaching English as a Second Language. Those experiences helped her grow in her teaching practice, as she explains in the May edition of my new web interview show, “Let’s Talk Portland!”.

Great teachers go the extra mile for their students, sometimes literally. Several teachers in our district visit the homes of every student in their class at the beginning of the year to get to know their families.

Great teachers are continuously on the lookout for resources to bring back to the classroom. They apply for grants from foundations and nonprofits. They spend time on nights and weekends recruiting local experts to speak to their classes.

Great teachers give of themselves personally. They get to know students as individuals and show that they care about them. That support and encouragement can have profound effects that reverberate for decades.

On May 6, our district celebrated Teacher Appreciation Day. But teachers deserve our thanks all year long.

If you haven’t thanked the teachers who made a difference in your life, why don’t you do so? I guarantee you will make their day.