Her name is Mrs. Katie Laver, but to me, she will always be Ms. Nichols. She is an elementary teacher in North Carolina, and she has just been chosen as Teacher of the Year for the 2010–2011 school year. She has her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, and she has been a teacher since 2004. But Katie is so much more than that. She was my roommate, freshman and junior years of college at Ohio University. She is one of the most important friends I have, and she is a woman I trust to shape the lives of young Americans.
You know me—I’m a literacy advocate to the extreme. I believe the future of our country lies in our children and their educations. Most importantly, I want kids reading, and I’m sorry to say, I don’t always trust our education system. Teachers like Katie Laver not only inspire trust, but they inspire hope. That’s why I just HAD to interview my roomie, friend, and inspiration.
An H and Five Ws with Teacher Extraordinaire Katie Laver
How did you become an early education teacher?
Ask anyone that knows me, it is very hard for me to sit still or do mundane work. I am someone always on the go and always looking for new stimuli. Teaching is a field that allows for creativity and flexibility. Working with children is always unpredictable and inspiring. Getting to know individual students while trying to decipher what I can do, as their educator, to help them grow individually, is a wonderful challenge. I knew from an early age that I wanted to be a teacher. I knew that I wanted to have a career where I felt I was helping people. I had an influential 2nd grade teacher, Mrs. Bolte, who showed me that learning can be fun and interactive. I was inspired and wanted to make this happen for my students as well.
Who has been your biggest influence in your career?
My mother is an educator, as well as my grandmother and aunt. I grew up around strong, confident, and caring women. Everyday I would watch my mother come home from work, exhausted yet content. After school I would go to her classroom and help her get ready for the next day. I loved the idea that everyday would be different then the last and every year would be a fresh start. I would listen to my mother talk about educational policies or issues that she felt passionate about. I was in awe watching her have deep, meaningful conversations with colleagues or my father about her beliefs or feelings towards specific issues affecting education. She showed me that if I had passion and drive, I too could make a difference in this world.
What is wrong with America’s education system? What is right?
I believe that the problem with America’s education system is the divide between home and school. The old saying, “It takes a village, to raise a child” couldn’t be truer. It is not solely the teachers’ responsibility or solely the parents’ responsibility, it is ours together. Parents being involved in their child’s education show the students that their education is important and supported. Establishing a strong teacher-parent rapport is essential when creating a trusting environment in the classroom. Students need to understand that their parents and teachers do care about their accomplishments and are promoting their learning at home and at school.
What is right about America’s education system? Well call me an optimist but I truly feel that our schools are full of passionate and caring educators. I have educators in my family, many friends that are educators, and work with a staff of educators. Not a day goes by that I don’t hear a fellow teacher talk about a concern they have for a student or an action they are taking to help an individual student. We have phenomenal teachers in America who do want the best for our students. This job is not something that we “leave at work.” Educators most definitely take work home with us. Educators are constantly reflecting: What can I do differently to help my students? How can I make a stronger connection to their parents? How can I teach this student so that he/she understands? …etc.
As an educator, we are responsible to be constant learners ourselves. “Practice what we preach!” We are responsible to be continually learning, attending professional development, and growing with our students. I see this happening with my colleagues every day. We strive to become better, stronger teachers for our students.
Where do parents fit into their kids’ educations?
It is essential for parents to be involved in their child’s education. In order for the students to get the most out of school, their parents need to be actively involved and informed. It is for the greater good of the student to get parents involved in their education. Every parent wants their child to reach his/her full potential; we need to get parents to understand that, in order for that to happen, they have to be a part of their child’s academic success.
When have you been most inspired by a student?
I don’t know why I have always been surprised to hear from a parent that I was a major positive influence on their child. I’m not sure if its humility or disbelief, but I do know that there is no greater feeling than when you feel that you have positively impacted a student. Seeing where my students come from has been an eye-opening experience for me at times—watching them persevere even in the worse conditions. Children are much stronger than we give them credit for.
A student that comes to mind is a girl I taught that came from a single parent home. Her father was abusive, and she was the eldest of 5 children. She lived in government funded housing, where crime was around her everyday. Even though she was surrounded by hardships, she came into school, smiling wide and eager to learn. I can distinctly remember towards the end of the school year, some of the students were making a gift for their fathers for Father’s Day. I clearly stated before starting this project that they could make these gifts for their grandpas or uncles or anyone else that may be a father figure in their lives. I am very aware of the plethora of single mothers at my school. I looked over to this child and she was staring at her desk with a distraught look on her face. “What’s wrong?” I probed. She immediately responded, “I HATE my dad.”
Immediately I pulled her aside to talk to her, explaining that she didn’t need to participate in the activity or that she could make something for another family member. She nodded her head, and I gave her a hug. She then went back to her seat to make something for her grandfather. She never talked about her father again nor would I make her do so. But from that day forward, it was a wake up call for me. So many of my students were coming from a home life that was completely different from where I came from. I have to admit I came from a loving home, where my parents were together and education was a priority. Granted I’m not saying my home life was a fairy tale but compared to many of my students, it could be perceived as so.
This experience touched me in a deep way. I remember thinking how hard it would be to concentrate and focus on school, when so much drama was happening at home—how many of our students have to deal with so much more at home then many of us did growing up; how it ISN’T the student’s fault that he or she are growing up in such hostile settings. From that day forward I said to myself, even if I am having the worst day, I know that many of my students are going home to worse. I would be their escape. I would make their life a little bit happier with structure and stability. They would understand that when they got to school, they would feel secure and especially loved.
This particular student is now older and no longer in my classroom. She constantly comes to give me hugs when she passes me in the hallway, and I gladly oblige. She writes me notes, calling me her best friend, and it always makes me smile. Her mother has called at school to tell me how much of a positive influence I have had on her daughter. It’s funny because I feel exactly the same way about her daughter, as much of a difference I have made for her; she has done the same for me. Now tell me, how many jobs can be this rewarding?
WHY are you a teacher?
Need I say more? Yes it is a challenging job, often times exhausting. But it is more rewarding then I can put into words. It is my purpose in life to try to teach my students to the best of my ability and be a positive role model for them. Even if that just happens with a few of my students, I am satisfied knowing that I made a difference for them. It only takes one influential teacher to make an impact; I can only pray that I do this for some of my students.
Amen, Mrs. Laver. So, dear reader … what are YOU doing to help?