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Teachers influence the future

Being Heroes and Changing Lives Forever

Oct 11, 2019 2019-10-11

By Melissa Miller

There is nothing more beautiful than the sound of children reading. That beautiful, bright-eyed face that comes up to you seeing himself or herself as a reader melts my heart. Knowing that you fostered that belief and gave that child a gift that will never stop giving is truly magical.

As educators, we contain great power within us to inspire passion for reading, to engage the community in mentoring our students along the way, and to build lifelong learners who are empowered to embark on their chosen path in life. It all begins with learning to read while reading to learn. As the Tennessee Teacher of the Year, I aspire to fan the flames of educators across the state to take that spark into their classroom to light the flames of their students with the elements needed to brighten their own passion for reading.

Thomas Jefferson once said, “If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.” We have the knowledge, motivation, and the exceptional teachers to make that happen. We must do things we’ve never done. We must open our doors, share best practices, and invite every available resource in to assist us on the journey. We must use our creativity to think outside the box of programs to give our students the rich literacy environment they need to thrive. Students need more time reading. They need to be engaged with texts that promote thinking, spark questioning, build vocabulary, and foster comprehension. We need to integrate all subjects into reading and reading should be naturally woven into all subjects. We should maximize every minute of our literacy block with the largest percentage of our time geared toward student practice in reading. Teachers should serve as facilitators, while students are engaged with rich literature, involved in deep conversation, and producing powerful writing. When teaching reading, it is possible to have 20 students on 20 different reading levels. With this reality, we must manage individualized needs with appropriate strategies to foster continuous growth in all students regardless of their actual reading level, their background knowledge, or their physical address.

Teachers can change lives forever and be heroes. To make a difference in the lives of children, you must be passionate, persistent, committed, and have razor-sharp relentless focus. When educators learn together and work collaboratively, we create winners. I truly believe we have what it takes. Being a part of the work as a Core Coach when we became the Fastest Improving State in the Nation was a defining moment in my career. I discovered how much I enjoyed coaching teachers. Working multiple summers in classrooms across the state, I witnessed teachers’ thinking shift. I witnessed the results that had upon students in my classroom, in my grade level, in my school, and in my district when inspired teachers went back into the classroom and implemented fresh practices.

Teachers have the power to make this monumental change. It is about uniting teachers, instilling a drive toward a common goal, receiving coaching in best practices, and delivering rigorous curriculum embedded with high expectations despite student demographics. Education is the most powerful tool for helping children succeed. The secret I want to share is to instill passion and belief and give time and strategies for students to become great readers. What we do changes the world for the children we have the great privilege of working with each day.

Just as our students are fueled by our belief in them, teachers are fueled by the same encouragement. The light of passion for literacy success burns bright within me and the flame I carry is contagious. I want to share the spark of belief and encouragement to help teachers and students run the literacy race with endurance because, as Mac Anderson says, “belief fuels enthusiasm and enthusiasm explodes into passion. It fires our souls and lifts our spirits.”

Melissa Miller is the 2019 Tennessee Teacher of the Year and first grade teacher at Franklin Elementary School.

Interning/Mentoring Reading/English/Language Arts

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