Inspiring Okeechobee: New teachers inspire those around them

OKEECHOBEE — Whew … we made it through back to school this past week. The children came polished with fresh haircuts, new backpacks, their best or favorite outfit to open house this past week. Then, school started, where the reality of summer coming to a close really sets in. I was inspired this week by many things that occur during this process. New teachers uprooted their lives and moved to Okeechobee to teach our children. Returning teachers did what they do best: prepared their classrooms and curriculum for the students who would be facing them Thursday morning. Then all that flurry of activity settles when the first bell of fall class begins.

Colleen Smith and Evan Keller were all smiles at school.

Those are the great things we love to hear, but I want to focus on a few things that really inspire me and hopefully you to do more. First is the new resident to Okeechobee — some of our teachers! One commented at a back-to-school lunch that she has been living out of a suitcase for a few weeks waiting on her housing situation to come to fruition. I don’t know that I would have the fortitude to move thousands of miles away from home, come to a new town and not know where I was going the moment I arrived. What a daunting task. I have lived here many years and didn’t have to come into a tabula rasa or “blank slate” of a classroom and figure out how to get it prepared PRIOR to receiving my first paycheck. Thank goodness for the group who hosted new teacher luncheons, as many commented these were their first homemade meals in weeks.

Kari Steiert and Karter Keller are ready for the new school year.

If there is anything placed on your heart to help teachers, this would be a need in our community. Make these new teachers feel welcomed to our community. If you weren’t aware, we always struggle to get enough teachers into our children’s’ classrooms, so we need to do more as a community to encourage them to stay! Invite a new teacher over for dinner, to trivia night, a movie, a church, a social club … anything to let them know what a great community they have chosen to live in. If you have a few extra dollars in your wallet, pick up an extra school supply or two and deliver it to any school with a note to a new teacher.

Now on to the other part — the students. We had the privilege to help many families this summer with preparing for back to school. I challenge you to remember the children who were not able to go and pick out the new outfits, sneakers or backpacks. Some of these wonderful children had to attend open house in their ill-fitting clothes from the previous school year. You may not see them walk through the doors of the school, but we teachers do. They have the same aspirations as the freshly dressed student, but for their situation struggle just to get in the doors some mornings. Keep these students in your thoughts. If you see an opportunity to help, try to do just that. Check out the school close to you and see about dropping off a new outfit, shoes, underwear or socks for those who might arrive to school and need a change of clothing. Jackets and jeans would be a big help in winter!

As we look to another year of new curriculum, fresh faces, one too many assessments, we know that there are love stories to be written, where we fall in love with our students and they with us. Think about your own education and your favorite teacher. For me Mrs. Anderson, my second grade teacher inspired my love of reading and writing, but it was more than that. She loved me like her own, allowing me to linger in class after school when I didn’t want to go to Brownies. She had the opportunity to make sure I loved school and she took advantage of that, inspiring me to have a zest for learning. If you are a teacher, make sure that you allow yourself to love our children and show them kindness even when they know exactly how to push our buttons.

Give that extra hug, sit down with them in the lunchroom and learn their names, linger on that silly question just a bit longer, laugh with them, cry with them and let them know they are loved. Pull out the Twister game and let them play while waiting on the bus! Together we are producing a generation of humans, not apps and widgets. The curriculum can wait a few minutes!

Leah Suarez is a freelance writer.

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