The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Always On

Today was our district’s Opening Day Institute. All of the teachers, administrators, and other staff gathered together for a day of professional development. This post is not about the Opening Day Institute, though. Instead, it is about a thought that came to me on Friday evening while I was with my wife and my in-laws at the Taste of C-U, a fundraiser for the Champaign Park District.

The thought was one I have had many times before. It is simple yet profound:

As a teacher, I am always on.

What do I mean? I mean that I am always “Mr. Valencic, fourth grade teacher at Wiley Elementary School.” I am a lot of other things, too. I am a son, a brother, a husband, an uncle, a nephew, a cousin, a friend, a colleague, an employee, a mentor, a leader. And I am always all of those things, too. And I am always on. I am on in that I am on the stage. People see me. People hear me. People know me. People hear what I say. And they talk about it.

Maybe not all the time, maybe not even for more than a few seconds. But it happens. I can’t control it. But I can control what they see, what they hear, or what they know. While I was with my family, I ran into a student. I have absolutely no idea who he was, what grade he was in (or is going into), or even if I know him. But he saw me walking past and shouted out, “Hey, Mr. Valencic! Hi!” I said hello and continued on my way as he continued on his. Later I walked past my superintendent, who was out with his family. While going over the vendor options as the Taste, a colleague was passing with her son, who is a former student of mine, and her other children who are in Wiley now. We greeted one another and chatted about my former student’s transition to middle school. I also saw some parents who didn’t say hi, but I am willing to bet they saw me, even if they weren’t quite sure how they knew me.

This happens a lot. Even though I currently live in a different community than my school, I still see families and fellow teachers when I am out in public. I love these moments. It is wonderful for students to see my outside of the school setting, when I am wearing casual clothing instead of my nice shirts, slacks, and ties. I love when a student grabs a parent to introduce me. (A cherish memory from my life as a substitute teacher was when a student who was very challenging in the classroom ran up to me at Walmart, hugged me, and introduced me to his dad as his substitute teacher! This from a student who had pushed against every boundary he could when I was subbing in his room.)

As I prepare for students to arrive for their first day on Wednesday, I want to keep this in mind, along with some words of wisdom shared during our Opening Day Institute. As our superintendent reminded us, the parents in our schools are sending us their very best students; it is up to me to give them my very best, all the time. And as our keynote speaker. Dr. Joe Martin shared, we don’t care about our students’ past problems; we care about their potential. How do I give my very best so that they can achieve their very best? By always being on.

Happy new school year!

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