Where we live, there are less than 10 days left of school, and let me tell you, my kids can taste it. As a parent, the buzz of end of year can be overwhelming and exhausting. At moments we are in disbelief that 9+ months have passed, and that summer is already upon us. In other moments we are amazed and emotional that our kids are moving on to the next chapter, grade or perhaps a new school entirely. It’s all unreal, and it gets me every year.
I think one of the reason why this gets me every year, is the fact that I’ve been surrounded by teachers and educators since I can remember. Yes, of course, as a student myself, but also because some of my dearest friends’ parents were teachers, and many of my closest friends today are teachers too. I may have even considered being a teacher myself one day, just ask my brothers, who were some of the finest students in my childhood basement classroom.
I recently had the opportunity to interview my good friend, Todd Stewart. Todd is a Doctoral Candidate in Education Leadership at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. He and his family (mom, dad and sisters) have dedicated their lives to educating, serving and loving kids, whether it be in school or at the summer camp they’ve run for 40+ years, Camp Putnam.
I loved what he had to share, as a Student, Teacher, Camp Director, Principal and current Superintendent Resident for Worcester Public Schools. As we approach the end of the year, I wanted to share what he had to say, as I believe it captures so well the hard work and dedication of the past school year, and what I want to hold onto, rest in and remember before the bell rings again in September (or August).
Q. What do you feel are the core motivations that drive teaching and education?
The core motivation that drives the vast majority of educators I have ever met is a sincere desire to support children and to make a real difference in their lives. I think systematically, there is less consensus around the “point” of education. I think we need to teach all kids a set of common, civic values while respecting their individual lived experiences. Many of us also see education as the closest thing we have to a meritocracy, where everyone gets a fair shot to be successful. Since differences in opportunity and privilege are so pronounced between kids in a number of ways, I think many of us see the job of education increasingly as the best place to disrupt these inequities in hopes of “leveling the playing field.”
Q. What do you wish all parents and caretakers knew about school and the classroom environment?
If there was one thing I wish all parents and caretakers knew, I think I would wish that they had a far greater understanding of the degree to which teachers and other professionals in schools are intentional and thoughtful with what they are doing for kids. One particular assignment, one particular seating arrangement or one particular classroom procedure may not make sense to kids or to parents in isolation. Some may even be annoying or seem pointless. But, sometimes I wish parents would view educators a bit more how we view doctors or other expertise-rich professionals. While we all know our own bodies best, we usually defer to our doctors when they recommend a course of action regarding our health. Teachers have similar levels of content-expertise, but because we have all done school, we are often much quicker to doubt that expertise.
Q. What are some of the biggest issues on the hearts of teachers and faculty these days?
I think there are a host of issues that weigh on educators every day. But, if I had to pick just one I would say it is probably concern over students’ social and emotional well-being. From students who have experienced trauma, to those that are dealing with harassment or bullying from peers to those that are simply trying to live up to family or societal expectations to the never-ending world of social media, kids are under inordinate amounts of pressure today. As much as educators want all students to be academically successful, it is far more important and pressing to us that they are well-balanced, happy individuals with strong identities and an ability to navigate the world in which they live.
Q. We know that many parents and children will be sending in thank you notes and end of year gifts, but in your view what lifts teachers up the most?
I think what lifts teachers up the most is any type of recognition that shows that their individual, often tireless efforts are recognized. Teachers provide everything possible for each of their unique learners; any messages or gestures that show that an individual student or family recognizes and appreciates this effort are the greatest gift a teacher can ever get.
Q. And lastly, as we approach summer, what is the advice teachers and schools are giving kids before they go?
Summer is so many different things for different kids. For some kids, unfortunately, it is a long time away from the care, support and structure of school. For others, it is an overly structured, micromanaged string of one activity or commitment after the next. What it should be, in my opinion, is something in between; an opportunity for kids (and families) to unwind, relax a bit and experience new and unique experiences. It should be a time for enrichment, for authentic engagement with interests and for kids to simply get to be kids. Kids should read and keep their minds active but books and activities should be of interest to kids, “want to” type stuff, not “have to” type assignments. Summer should be spent outside, in nature, as unplugged as possible interacting with others in safe, positive ways without the pressures of school….can you tell I’m a summer camp guy?
Thank you Todd -- for your time, friendship and for the inspiration you and your family have provided since we were students together back in our hometown, and especially during all the years I had the opportunity to work and serve alongside you at Camp Putnam. And a humongous Bird & Bear Collective hug to all the incredible educators, faculty, students and parents out there who are teaching, learning and loving day in and day out. Enjoy these last few days and bring on summer!
On June 26th The Bird & Bear Collective is hosting a workshop entitled “Summer Survival Kit.” This program is designed for kids aged 6-10 and includes many of the games, projects and FUN that Todd and I had the opportunity to teach years ago at Camp Putnam. Register today and equip your kids to kick-off their summer in an easy and creative way!