”Do whatever we can to first capture students’... hearts before worrying about how much we are teaching them.” –Regie Routman

On Monday, May 1, our district came together to celebrate our profession. Each school awarded a friend to educator, classified employee of the year and educator of the year.

A complete list of all of the talented and dedicated employees and volunteers is available on the district’s Facebook page.

I love this event and look forward to the celebration each year. As I watch and listen to the presentations, I am reminded of how truly lucky we are in our community to have such talented people working with our young people. We have award-winning programs in our district because we have award-winning educators teaching our children. One such teacher is Ms. Tammy McMorrow. Tammy is a first grade teacher at Indian Creek Elementary, and she has taught in the Kuna district for 23 years.

Tammy has long been an advocate of the writing workshop and has studied and implemented the work of Donald Graves, Lucy Calkins and Reggie Routman. For years she has authored a blog called Forever in First. She is currently finalizing the publishing of a book called “Gatekeepers: Let’s Talk About Teaching”, which will be available through Amazon in August. During Monday’s celebration, Tammy shared the following excerpt from her book and has agreed to allow me to share with all of you:

When my new crew arrived on the first day of school, I looked at all their faces, borrowed a line from my pastor, and with arms open wide said, “I’m surrounded by greatness.”

Even with an accompanying first-grade friendly explanation, their collective blank looks were proof that my words sailed over most of their heads. Yet I persistently returned to this refrain, let it repeatedly sink in, and before long it naturally morphed into, “You’re full of greatness.” A new mantra was born. These same students on that first day of school also heard me passionately declare, “I loved you before you even showed up.”

My students heard affirmations about love and greatness before I had an inkling about attitudes, temperaments or abilities. They did nothing to earn any of these declarations, but their names were on my roster. That’s all it took.

Words have creative power, and I believe it’s my job and honor to intentionally speak only the best ones into the atmosphere of my classroom and more specifically into each heart. It is possible my words will jump-start a culture of respect, trust and love. That’s the kind of foundation every learning environment deserves.

I also believe I have a responsibility to influence the self-talk of my students. My voice goes with them, but it isn’t the only voice my students hear in their heads. Their own voices matter and are naturally louder than my own. So imagine a class of first graders saying The Pledge of Allegiance each morning; “...One nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all. I am full of greatness.” That’s what you would hear in my room, and that’s what I hope my students hear in their heads every time they say the pledge, long after they leave first grade.

It would be dishonest and unreasonable to imply that I always see evidence of this greatness in all students in all moments, or that it’s easy to be that loving teacher I professed to be on the first day of school, when I’m shedding tears of frustration a month later. I admit that distracting behaviors sometimes prevent me from seeing their greatness. As their teacher, I owe it to them to give it my best though. Their greatness is non-negotiable, and they deserve to know it.

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