Erica McAndrew is the 2022-2023 Carroll County Teacher of the Year and a first-grade teacher at Spring Garden Elementary, where she has taught for 29 years. She has her masters in elementary math leadership and had her thesis published about her passion, math and children’s literature.
Over the last 29 years, the profession of teaching has seen some drastic changes. Covid, standards, testing, and a multitude of other factors have impacted the profession. However, one thing that has remained the same is that students still need amazing teachers.
Every day my students come in and want to be accepted as they are and who they are. We as teachers do that! We are so much to so many. This ability to support and nurture students is pivotal to our teaching.
Over the course of my teaching career, I have changed as well. When you see me in school, I will be wearing a pair of Mickey Mouse ears. It was December 2020, and my students needed a spark. Each day I would have a new hat or ears. A spark was ignited. I hesitated to wear them outside of my room but soon realized smiles were contagious. This held true for both co-workers and students. Recently a student looked at me and said “Why do you wear the ears?” “Why do you think?” I responded. He answered, “They make me smile.” In our teaching world it’s sometimes the simplest thing that has the biggest impact.
Believing in your students is the greatest gift you can give them. This means when something doesn’t work in your instruction, you’re not afraid to ask for help or try something new or different. Your colleagues are facing the same challenges. All students do not need the same thing, and one size does not fit all of them for you to be successful. This is where your superpower as a teacher can make a profound impact. Finding a new way to explain a topic and see the light bulb go off is the most rewarding aspect of the job.
I’ve also learned that the ability to ask for help is not a weakness. In the beginning of my career, I felt that if I sought help, I was not a strong enough teacher. The older and wiser I became, I realized that seeking collaboration and asking for help makes me a better teacher. Taking the time to collaborate with others allows you to reach your full potential as a teacher. You gain new perspectives and fresh ideas which help to maintain the spark we often need to keep going. When you are stuck or defeated, lean on your colleagues—they’re the ones who will get you through. Together we are better, stronger, wiser.
Remember that you make an impact daily. It may be a hug, a smile, or words of encouragement, but those moments last a lifetime for a student who needs them—and may count on them. Each child is unique. It is our job to look beyond their sight words and math facts and know them for who they are and what makes them special. When you love your students for who they are, as they come to you and with whatever baggage they may hold, you create lifetime learners. Many days you won’t realize the impact of your words or your instructions.
Connections and relationships are what it takes to make an amazing educator. Today, take a minute to connect with your students over their love of dinosaurs, Disney, or their obsession with sports. And take time to grant yourself grace. Ask for help\ when things are hard, go to another teacher for support—because chances are they have been there, too. When you connect with your students the academics will come, and they will reach for the stars because they know that you believe in them.