Madison City Teacher Of the Year, Jenney Merritt, is bracing herself for a very different year… but not why you might think. This is the first time in her 10 year teaching career that she’s starting the year out winded and out of breath. “Pregnant in July, yes ma’am, short of breath ALL the time!”
Mrs. Merritt is the Band Director at Discovery Middle School, and on any given day in previous years, her boisterous band room is one of the happiest spots in the school.
Merritt was awarded Madison City Schools Secondary Teacher of the Year for 2019-2020. Usually, the current Teacher of the Year shares remarks at the annual back-to-school training days for teachers and staff. But this year, Mrs. Merritt did something a little different.
“I know all of my teacher, parent, administrator and school staff friends are all working incredibly hard to get this year started and 2020 has been stressful to say the least. I couldn’t pass up the chance for at least a few laughs. Thank you teachers your hard work and for what you do for our kids! Thank you administrators/central office staff/school boards for pouring your hearts into the hard decisions. Thank you parents for your support! Cheers to the 2020-2021 school year – We can do this!”
Read Her Whole Speech
You can watch it above, but here’s Mrs. Merritt’s whole speech if you prefer to read.
My original message was about embracing the students’ productive struggle and the power of the Fine Arts. That’s still in the forefront of my mind, but it’s been somewhat overshadowed by everything that’s going on in our world. I still believe now, more than ever, that the Fine Arts are an essential way to develop innovators, dreamers, artists, historians, writers, teachers and leaders who possess empathy and a growth mindset.
What could be more important right now than empathy? What could be more important right now than embracing the “power of yet?” As teachers, we see our students struggle with grit. This year, let’s commit to being a model of grit, creativity and growth mindset for our students.
One of my favorite quotes that I always come back to by Einstein is “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.” I love the reminder that joy and creativity are always somewhere inside of all of us and that teachers are like archaeologists with shovels and hardhats ready to unearth it.
Let’s be honest though, our students’ joy probably isn’t the only joy that may need to be unearthed this year. I can’t speak for all of us but if you are like me, anxiety and fear have manifested themselves in countless ways. Mental health during 2020 has been a rollercoaster and should be at the forefront of our minds as we come back into our school buildings. The burden of the unknown has weighed on all of us, students, teachers, staff, administrators and parents.
We will all need a couple of tips and tricks for students who become overwhelmed and we may even need some for our colleagues or for ourselves. However you’re feeling, it’s valid; it’s normal. However you’re feeling, your students and their parents probably feel it too.
We keep hearing that this will be the toughest year yet, but remember: those people aren’t in your classroom behind your desk or talking to your kids. You’re the expert here. Instead of focusing on what we won’t be able to do this year, let’s focus on modeling grit and resilience in the face of uncertainty.
Be creative. For me, this may mean choosing band music that makes me smile; maybe a middle school band rendition of “Don’t Stand So Close to Me,” who knows. Don’t compare yourself to the teacher down the hall, the teacher that occupied the room before you or even to last year’s version of yourself.
Although school won’t be exactly what we are used to, we still get to center our work around the reason we got into teaching in the first place: our students. All of our students. Some days will be easier than others, but starting with a focus on physical and mental health for everyone, we can get back to that place of innovation and opportunity for every child.
Here’s what someone will inevitably have to tell me, probably somewhere around August: it isn’t always easy to look on the bright side and have sunshine, unicorns and perfectly laminated bulletin boards all the time. The most important thing is to keep trying; one day at a time. Maybe grab some latex gloves and a face shield so you can give a kid a high five and keep doing what teachers have always done: support and encourage our kids and each other. Continue to create a generation of hard working, empathetic life-long learners. If that means one afternoon after a hard day you go home, take a long nap, binge some Netflix and eat a pint of ice cream, then so be it. You deserve it.
Thanks for all you do. We couldn’t do it without you.
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