Sunday, June 24, 2001

Nancy Grasmick's Speech: Teacher of the Year Gala

October 13, 2000 ~ Nancy Grasmick speaking at the Teacher of the Year luncheon

I once read an online post by novelist Harry Crews. He said that teaching--real teaching--is a messy business. And then, just a few months ago, I read your nomination packets, your views on teaching and teachers, the importance of the profession and your contributions to it. I read your assessments of what makes an outstanding teacher and why you are one yourself...or at least why others say you are. And so it seems to me that you agree with Mr. Crews...that you, too, think teaching is a messy business. And that, in the eye of teaching's predictable chaos--an apt oxymoron if ever there was one--is the key to something wonderful.

Let me elaborate. I read in your biographies that you'll forfeit the lesson you were scheduled to deliver because a student who rarely contributes to the classroom discussion decides to share a thought or ask a question...and, by drawing him out, you know you'll realize an even greater goal.
I read that you don't reuse lesson plans, because you think each set of students is unique, and, therefore, even the best-laid plans are seldom transferrable.

That you'll let the articulate child tell you what she's learned when she has trouble writing it down, and then formulate a better plan to accommodate all learning styles.

You'll open up your house to anyone who needs you--40 rambunctious 3rd graders over for a group homework session or just one 11th grader struggling over an English assignment.

You'll pay house calls to students and fellow them set up computer systems and install software applications...without thought of a favor returned.

You'll dance without self-consciousness, sing without modesty, and act with all the stage presence you can muster, so that instruction is not only a little more fun for your students, but a lot more memorable.

You'll let your students glimpse your world...invite them to participate in what you're doing outside of the classroom.

You'll let your own learning guide your students', and, in turn, let students refine your instructional practices.

You'll show students how learning helps us unravel the mysteries of life--or, sometimes, just helps us appreciate them better.

And so it is no wonder that, when asked, nearly everyone in America can quickly submit the name of at least one teacher who has profoundly influenced--even saved--his or her life...

After all, nearly every one of you did.

You talked about Mrs. Hart, 4th grade, who greeted you with unfailing encouragement and warmth.

About Mrs. Schlotterbeck, 8th grade social studies, who showed you, for the first time, how much fun learning could be.

Mrs. Kennedy, grade 2, who cast you as the lead in the Christmas play and made you feel worthy of the role.

Mrs. Echols, your French teacher, who sat you down and discussed your college options with a parent might.

Ms. Taylor, middle-school math, who presented dynamic lessons and valued hands-on learning.

Mrs. Gass, Mr. Boyer, and Mr. Peerless, who knew you were on the wrong path, and encouraged you to try out for student council or the school musical or the choir, so you would have neither the time nor the energy to self-destruct.

In the coming years, these stories will be supplanted by stories about you. Vivid stories about how you sparked an interest, opened a door, coaxed, cajoled, prodded, and prompted. How you took a different approach when the first one failed--and the second and the third and the fourth.

You are, right now, a legend in the making to thousands and thousands of students.

Poet and critic John Jay Chapman once said that "teaching...implies a need and a craving in the teacher, himself."

That, too, was evident in the synopses I read.

All of you mentioned your love of teaching; more telling, perhaps, is that many of you spoke of a need to teach. All of this passion is who I am, said one Teacher of the Year. It cannot be separated from me.

And so I thank you for heeding the call, for satisfying in yourself the need and the craving.

You have touched more lives than even you could possibly know.

We honor you, and we thank you.

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