By Becky Straight
Gordon Russell Middle School 7th Grade Language Arts Teacher and Peace in Schools adult trainings alumni
This is the acceptance speech Becky gave when accepting her Teacher of the Year award for the Gresham-Barlow school district. In her speech, she shared about the impact Peace in Schools’ trainings for youth-serving professionals trainings had on her personally and professionally.
We’re so proud of Becky and inspired by the amazing work she’s doing in the world!
I am so incredibly honored and humbled by this recognition. This moment represents the success of the Gresham-Barlow School District in inspiring, empowering, and helping one of our own to thrive. I grew up here in Gresham, attending schools in our district. I was inspired and supported by the teachers of Hollydale Elementary School back when they were still the Honeybears. I was an awkward and insecure adolescent at Dexter McCarty Middle School, empowered and encouraged by the staff to strive for more and to believe in myself. As a result, I grew academically and gained the confidence to seek out challenges at Gresham High School. Go Gophers! Thank you to all my past teachers and principals, your support and encouragement helped me to thrive!
Fortunately for me, my journey with the Gresham-Barlow School District was not over. I was overjoyed to be hired at Clear Creek Middle School, to be mentored by the best with creativity, energy, and humor. I then moved to Gordon Russell Middle School, where I have continued to grow with amazing colleagues and administrators who are full of passion for teaching and school spirit! This is not only my moment; this is our moment Gresham-Barlow!
I want to acknowledge what a challenging and complex career we chose. Inspiring, empowering, and helping others to thrive is at the heart of our job. In doing this, we need to be inspired. We to need to be empowered and supported. We need to take care of ourselves. We need to find balance, in order to thrive.
The theme of balance came up when I re-watched the original Karate Kid this summer with my daughters, who will be attending Hogan Cedars and West Orient this year. While not all 80’s movies stand the test of time, I believe this one does. There is a moment where Mr. Miyagi, who is the karate expert and mentor, is sharing with Daniel, the karate kid, that the lesson of balance is not just for karate but for all of life, explaining that when your life has balance everything is better. Mr. Miyagi tells Daniel to “go find your balance.” This struck a chord with me. The truth is we all are working hard; pursuing trainings, ideas, strategies, and curriculum that matter, that are inspiring and empowering us to be amazing educators. But I do feel like we need to be reminded of Mr. Miyagi’s words to go find our balance so we can thrive.
There are a countless number of things that come our way, that can and often do throw us off balance because we all know our job is not just teaching content. We plan and prep and still need space for the unpredictable such as the emotional and mental health needs of every individual student in our classes, or the meeting that goes longer than planned, or the new student who shows up third-period and you need to welcome them, find them a seat, give them an entry point to the unit we’re in the middle of, while answering multiple questions from other students and hopefully finding time for yourself to use the bathroom in less than 4 minutes and still be fresh and focused to teach the next lesson, not to mention paying attention to all the other things that can throw off our students like: holidays, breaks, Mondays, Fridays, Wednesday late starts, the moon cycles, the period before lunch, the period after lunch, last period, socials, assemblies, and last year, in the middle school at least, the Avengers release date.
I do want to share with you a few things that have helped me and my students regain our balance more consistently. One is learning to increase my effectiveness with intentional non-verbal communication, being aware of myself, my voice, my movement, my attention, and the great impact this has on my classes. The other is the Mindfulness for Educators trainings I have attended through Peace in Schools. This program has dramatically impacted me both personally and professionally, helping me and my students to access calm through breath awareness, paying attention to our self-talk, learning to respond instead of react, and practicing self-compassion.
Last year I was thrown off balance while grading a writing assignment. One of my students, instead of writing about the assigned topic had written a rant against how I was scoring it, which was inaccurate, but the emotion conveyed was aggressive. Instantly I was caught up in imagining my confrontation with him. I was indignant, insulted, frustrated, and angry. I put the paper down and took a deep breath, then I remembered the practice of Self-Compassion I’d learned about at a Mindfulness for Educators workshop and I offered myself compassion by pausing to say to myself the following phrases: this is a moment of suffering, this is a part of being human, may I hold my pain with tenderness, may I offer myself the compassion I need. As I opened my eyes again, I focused on the student who had written this paper, and I offered him compassion too.
Two days later, I had an opportunity to talk to him privately. When he saw his paper on my desk, his shoulders stiffened. I began the conversation in a way that was kinder and more compassionate than the first wave of my imagining had been. In a few minutes, he was in tears, sharing about the hardship he and his family were facing. By taking care of my needs I was able to take care of his needs. I am so grateful for this moment of self-compassion that helped me to regain my balance.
Through all of this, I’m learning that when I am well, when I am taking better care of myself, when I am finding my balance, I respond better to the surprises that arise: I am in good humor, I have more patience, and feel better. So, whatever it is that recharges your battery, that brings you into balance, and helps you to thrive, nurture that this year. Listen to the wise advice of Mr. Miyagi and “go find your balance!”
I am so grateful for all that I have learned at the schools in Gresham-Barlow and for all the amazing people who have supported and shaped me. Thank you Gresham-Barlow for this moment to celebrate the great work of our district through the decades, where you taught and nurtured and believed in one of your students, and where you continue to invest in and encourage her as one of your many outstanding educators. Who knows who you will be teaching this year, who or what they will become in the future, maybe even a teacher who will one day give us a speech at convocation! Thank you!
Learn more about our trainings for youth-serving professionals here.