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Giving thanks to the teachers who made me one

Every year, Teacher Appreciation Week reminds us to celebrate educators — the people who love, inspire and empower our kids.

This Teacher Appreciation Week though — my first as a teacher myself — I find myself feeling absolutely more grateful than ever before.

A year ago at this time, I was a senior at Wofford College, sure I wanted to make an impact but unsure of how I was going to do that. Now, as a Teach for America corps member and high school Spanish teacher at the Middle College at Guilford Technical Community College (GTCC), I’ve found my way to a career I love, a school doing incredible work in the face of challenging circumstances, and a group of students I can’t imagine my life without. As I think of how lucky I am to have found a job that inspires me the way this one does, I know none of it would have been possible without the colleagues at my school who opened their doors, arms and “tricks of the trade” to me.

I know none of it would have been possible without the colleagues at my school who opened their doors, arms and “tricks of the trade” to me.

The teachers at my school are some of the most talented, creative, compassionate people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. They come from all backgrounds and their pathways to the classroom are as diverse as the perspectives they bring to them. They understand the challenges facing our students. Our school serves students that are bright with great potential, but are currently underperforming in the traditional high school setting — either because they need additional academic support because their life circumstances limit their ability to thrive. When I walked through the doors on my first day, they embraced me as a member of our familial community — an ally in the pursuit of opportunity for all kids, including ours.  

At our school, each beginning teacher is assigned a mentor. Mine, Mrs. Sara Younce, has been my coach, confidant and supporter through countless highs and lows. When my mind starts to spin, she brings me back to earth. She consistently reminds me of small things I wouldn’t think to do and sparks ideas for everything from classroom activities to what to put on a rubric. In this and a million other ways, she consistently pushes me to be a better teacher for our students — modeling both the way she interacts with students and how she manages to get things done.

Along with Mrs. Younce, as I think about the teacher I aspire to be, an image of my colleague Mrs. Hamm is never far from mind. Mrs. Hamm is unambiguously and unapologetically student-centric. Watching her in action, her passion for teaching is palpable. In teaching exponential functions, she used the movie Pay It Forward to expose students to the concept of being a global citizen and this idea that good deed can make a huge impact. Her students create and design their own Angry Birds game while learning how to graph functions. Whatever the lesson, she empowers them to use their imagination and see the “why” behind learning math in a way that is personally important to them. This spills out beyond her classroom and into her work with our Performing Arts club, where she inspires students to know that they are valuable from the inside out and that expression can make an impact on our world.

As a first year teacher, I have to think on my feet, stretch and grow every day, and make important decisions with the potential to impact my students’ futures. With these exceptional veteran teachers alongside me, imparting wisdom on a daily basis and helping me build confidence, I feel empowered to do so.

This Teacher Appreciation Week, I hope you’ll join me in recognizing the countless educators and staff members who motivate thousands of students, along with young educators like me as we strive to follow in their inspiring footsteps.

Kalle Davis

Kalle Davis is a first-year Teach For America corps member teaching Spanish at the Middle College at Guilford Technical Community College Greensboro Campus.