Maryellen Gamberg, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Education
Commencement Address—May 10, 2011
Long Island University at Riverhead
Thank you very much for this opportunity to speak to the graduates. Please know that I stand here tonight humbled to be asked to address you, and honored to be a part of this milestone in your journey as educators.
So, what does one say to a group of graduates about to enter this field of education? There is no doubt that these are difficult times to be a teacher. Budget cuts, loss of jobs, and the public attack on educators makes one wonder why anyone would want to be a teacher.
Now, that doesn't seem like words of encouragement for such a joyous occasion, so I would like to share with you what gives me hope, what renews my conviction, and what strengthens my resolve.
To be born a child in the United States is indeed a most fortunate birthright. A staggering 40 percent of the world's children are not afforded a full primary and secondary education. Since the days of Thomas Jefferson, our country has supported and sustained public education because deep in our hearts we know that in order to uphold the basic tenants and ideals of our democracy, and to provide for our collective future, we must ensure that we are educating an informed society of capable citizens.
This is the hope and promise that we must offer to the children of America.
It is also the hope and promise for you because there will always be children, and this country will always need highly effective educators committed to those ideals. Yes, its a difficult time, right now, to get a teaching position in our immediate area, but that will change. There are schools, however, right now, in parts of this country that are seeking your training, yearning for your passion, and searching for your commitment. And ... there are children ... Yes, there are children in parts of this country that are deserving of your training, children longing for your passion, and children wanting of your commitment. If you are truly committed to your dream, there are jobs because there are children ... waiting for you.
Don't lose sight of your dream. Don't lose sight of the many reasons that you shared about why you wanted to be a teacher. You didn't share that you wanted summers off or a job that ended at three. What you did share is that you wanted to have an impact on the Iives of children; you wanted to share your passion for reading, writing, math or science. You spoke with conviction about the tremendous responsibility of preparing children for the job ... of citizen. Some of you wanted to offer children a kind of education that wasn't afforded to you as a student with special needs or a child with special talents. No, you didn't say that you wanted summers off or a job that ended at three, because you know that is not what teaching is all about ... nor is it the reality.
As a result of your student teaching experiences, you now know that truly dedicated teaching requires tremendous work and effort; that teaching a lesson is only a fraction of the time that it takes to develop, prepare, reflect upon, and revise that lesson. You now know that when the work day is done, that your work has just begun. And that when your friends are spending evenings and weekends and summers with their families and their friends, that you are consumed with thinking, planning, learning, revising, and losing sleep over the academic, social, and emotional needs of your students. Yes, you now know that a committed teacher's mind is never at rest. But you have also come to know that even in the face of all that work, that even in the face of all the public attack on teachers - that it is all worth it - because you now know that the rewards of teaching are not measured in a paycheck. You now know that the true reward is that children are waiting - and those children are waiting for you.
As you follow your dream, and find yourself in the company of children, I would like to offer the following:
While you have finished your coursework, know that your real learning is about to begin.
Strive to be the best possible teacher that you can be. Continue to read professional books, attend conferences, take classes. Until we figure out how to effectively teach each and every child, then our learning, as educators, is never done. Be honest about what you don't know and humble enough to do what it takes to be better at your craft. Seek out master teachers and ask for help. Take feedback with grace and appreciation ... and really listen.
Surround yourself with positive people. Avoid those who gossip, complain, and drain the energy of others. Be grateful to have a job, and remember that education is about children, not about the ego of adults. Smile in the hallways, even if your heart, your confidence, or your high heel is broken. Say, "Hello," to everyone, even if they don't respond ... for the hundredth time. People will come around, but you can leave work each day knowing that you have treated people with kindness and respect. Be a living example of the person that you are helping children to become.
Remember, that children are waiting for you! Design authentic and purposeful curriculum that prepares them for life in an ever changing complex world. Design thoughtful learning opportunities that address their individual needs, rather than designing meaningless activities. Don't look to your peers as a gauge of your success as a teacher. Look to your students.
Remember, those are the children that are waiting for you! Look each of them in the eye each and every day, and greet them with excitement, affection, and appreciation. Take time to laugh long and hard with them. Allow that contagious energy to fill the room, to fill your heart, and to fill your soul. Take time to play with children. Spend time on the playground. Allow their pureness to teach you a thing or two about fairness, injustice, and unconditional love. Take time to listen to children sing. Stop by a band or chorus practice every now and then. Breathe in all that tenderness.
Know, too, that some children carry heavy burdens beyond their years. Leave your worries at the door so that you can be fully present to hold them, console them, and provide for them perhaps that only happy place in their life. Treat all children with kindness and respect. You must be that living example of the person that you are helping them to become.
Yes, teaching is hard. There is no doubt. To be a part of the social, emotional, and intellectual development of a child is the most important work in the world.
But to grow old in the company of children? That is perhaps the greatest gift of all.