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October 1, 2012
Vol. 54
No. 10

In the Classroom with Brad Kuntz

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      It's amazing how many roles teachers today are expected to fulfill, and each of these roles comes with varying degrees of pressure and expectation from society. The school board prioritizes teachers' roles differently than parents do; while the demands of the federal government certainly differ from those of students.
      From content specialist and instructional expert to curriculum developer and assessment designer; from mentor and role model to physical and emotional caregiver; from school leader and culture creator to community liaison and district representative, each function possesses the potential to influence individual students, the school, and the community in incalculable ways. It's up to teachers themselves to determine which of these roles (and the countless unmentioned others) they will focus on, improve on, and excel in.
      There is one role, though, that many of us put at the top of our lists, especially in the beginning of our careers: we wish to be a source of warmth for our students, to be kind and gentle, showing them unwavering care and respect; making them feel loved; and reminding them that however tough things are outside the classroom, in our room they are safe and welcome.
      We know that if not for us, some students might spend a whole day without hearing positive words, without being complimented or encouraged, or without being made to feel important.
      This is certainly one of my top priorities. I have written about some of the other roles most important to me in this publication over the past year. Several of them revolve around making leaders out of our students, creating agents of change, forming active citizens, and pushing students to go above and beyond the norm. I want to guide my students toward becoming extraordinary.
      Often, though, these goals require the use of tough love that I admit is sometimes more tough than loving. As a result of the pressure and expectations I face as an educator and the self-imposed goals I described above, I have occasionally lost sight of that kindness that was once my top priority. I have lost patience, forgotten to be kindhearted, and acted coldly or in a way that was overly demanding.
      In this period of unfunded mandates, increased emphasis on standardized testing, and layoffs, the stresses of the job are many. Some teachers do a fantastic job of being consistently kind and patient without sacrificing the advancement of other goals; however, when I have become overwhelmed by the scope of everything I'm trying to accomplish, I have lost sight of this fundamental approach.
      We need to remind each other that the more we get to know our students, the more we will understand their challenges. The better we look after our students' emotional well-being, the more trust we will earn from them. The more we put ourselves in their shoes, the better we will understand how to work with them.
      This empathetic approach sets up everyone for success and combats the impatience and irritability that we inevitably face in this profession.
      In my opinion, to most effectively ensure that we maintain the necessary levels of patience and kindness as we strive to push our students to be the best that they can be, we must take care of ourselves too. When I neglect or forget to care for myself, stress affects my demeanor.
      So, as I sign off on my last article in Education Update, I encourage you all to treat yourselves gently, to refresh and protect yourselves, to make healthy choices, and to manage your stress. Exercise, eat well, ride your bike or walk to work once a week, meditate, play music, and take time for yourself. Do whatever it takes to keep yourself at the top of your game.

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      Brad Kuntz teaches Spanish and environmental leadership at Gladstone High School in Gladstone, Ore., and is a 2011 winner of ASCD's Outstanding Young Educator Award.



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