Point of view: Beyond lesson plans
A career educator, Maggie Carson ’95 reflects on the challenges teachers face in the classroom that have nothing to do with budget cuts or standardized testing.
People have reputations. You know people who are kind, honest and dependable, and others who are arrogant, lazy and angry. I want to be known as a person who is loving, caring and patient; someone who is prepared, effective and can maximize the time spent with her students. When I did my student teaching in 1995, I was led and expected to be this kind of teacher. The biggest demand professors at Elon wanted to see was that we were prepared.
And so, for the past 20 years, I’ve prepared for each new class. The 2014-15 school year was no different. But then, during my summer break I was informed of an issue I would need to deal with over the next nine months. After a one-hour crash course in diabetes, I was prepared for one student to enter my room who was dependent on me to calculate carbs and dispense insulin to her body while teaching her to read, comprehend, calculate math and write five-sentence paragraphs. Little did I know the pump that was attached to her body, which seemed so challenging to me at first, would later be simple compared to other issues I would face in the classroom.
With a positive attitude and a caring heart, I approached this challenge as if this student was my own biological child. The school year was starting out with the usual business when another student, who had not been feeling well, was hospitalized for having an extremely high blood glucose level. After visits with him and his family, I was given another round of diabetes training. This time, the student did not have a pump for his insulin, so I had to give him insulin injections after calculating his carbs. Again, facing this challenge head on as if he was my own, we moved forward with teaching reading, math, writing, science, social studies and diabetes.
As October rolled around, we were celebrating and learning about fall when my third challenge, and the most heartbreaking one, came calling on a Sunday night. With fear in her voice, the mother of one of my students called to tell me her precious 6-year-old girl had fallen in church. After a trip to the emergency room, they were rushing her to Chapel Hill because they discovered she had a brain tumor. That phone call only lasted three minutes, long enough for the mom to tell me she would not be attending a conference the next day and to please pray for her daughter. Later that week my sweet student was diagnosed with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma, a terminal brain tumor. The emotions I felt were indescribable. This was a challenge I was not prepared to face. But my experiences at Elon did prepare me to care, and to care a lot. So we moved forward as normal each day, helping this little girl live and experience an extraordinary life along the way.
My classroom is only a small sample of what schoolteachers face each day. There are so many issues in public education. We read or hear about them on the news, we listen to policy makers make promises about them and, sometimes as parents of children, we even deal with them. It seems many politicians focus on how schools are failing, and their only solution is standardization, accountability and high-stakes testing. I could easily write about factors affecting education such as poverty, less-than-ideal family environments, lack of parent involvement, budget cuts, funding or standardized testing. But problems in education are not what teachers focus on each day. We focus on our students. We care. We take action. We teach. We focus on each student and not the data or statistics students are becoming. These little people are more to us than an arrow that is going up or down.
I have been asked many times why I teach. Is it my passion? Some days I can answer “yes.” Other days, I can only search for the positives. But I do know the reason I teach is because I care about others. I teach because I enjoy the challenge each day brings to me. I teach because the world deserves children who are moving in the right direction. I teach because little girls with brain tumors deserve to learn in a caring environment with their friends. So to the world of education, I say, take action. Decide to care. Teach your students or children to care. With desire and commitment, we can build a fire inside our children that catches others on fire. Pass it on.
A career educator, Maggie Carson ’95 is a first-grade teacher at Alma Easom Elementary School in Fayetteville, N.C. Earlier this year, she was a semifinalist for the Top Teacher of 2015 contest by the syndicated TV show “Live with Kelly & Michael.” You can follow the progress of Carson’s student diagnosed with DIPG by visiting “Operation Grace White” on Facebook.