I have all the respect in the world for teachers who are dedicated to working with their young charges to make sure they get the very best education -- teaching them to think critically and to go beyond the surface to fully investigate issues and subjects. I was fortunate to have several teachers like that when I was coming along.
Most of us have a favorite teacher we remember from our school days. Mine was Miss Elizabeth Evans, my ninth-grade English teacher. She was my inspiration for becoming a writer and newspaper reporter. She recognized and helped to develop my potential.
Recently, I interviewed an Orangeburg teacher who reminds me of Miss Evans. Robin Wright, a Walterboro native who has been an educator for 20 years, currently teaches social studies and economics at OCSD5's High School for Health Professions. Wright had originally planned to go into the U.S. Air Force after she graduated from Walterboro High School, but she and her two best friends joined the Teacher Cadet program their senior year. Wright liked it so much, she enrolled at S.C. State University and earned her education degree.
With all of the challenges facing teachers today, I asked Wright why she has chosen to remain in the profession.
"As I learned to be a better teacher, learned new strategies to connect to my students, learned ways to make the teaching relevant, I enjoyed it more," she said. "It's exciting to know that, with teaching social studies -- government, in particular -- there's always something happening (in the world) that I can relate to my lessons. I can bring it back to my students."
While she believes there should be accountability for teachers and standardized testing of students, Wright says "test scores definitely don't show everything."
"Some people think that the only way you can decide that a school or a teacher or a student is successful is based on a score on a standardized test," she said. "As teachers, we see students who come to us on one level and through working and practicing, we see those victories where they've improved. And a lot of times, that just gets swept under the rug because the test score didn't say this."
Having 25 students in one room and trying to figure out how to reach all 25 of them -- what strategies will work best for each -- can be "a juggling act," Wright said.
"As a teacher, I am expected to engage all of those 25 different personalities ... and meet the expectations of 25 sets of parents and school administrators as well," she added.
"Students today are a lot different. With everything going on in technology, you can't expect them to just sit and listen to somebody talk for 90 minutes. You have to engage them."
Like my Miss Evans, Wright doesn't stop caring about her students when they leave her classroom.
"Not having children myself, I always follow 'my babies' because I love seeing my former students in college, graduating with master's degrees and doctorates and getting married and having their own children and just seeing them be successful," she said.
What advice does she have for others considering a career in teaching?
"It can be overwhelming for new teachers with the number of responsibilities they're going to have ... I would tell them to be willing to wait for the rewards, which will come later" once they see that sparkle in a struggling student's eye when they finally "get it," Wright said. "For me, that is the reward."