I grew up in a small town in southwest Missouri. Marionville is best known for its apple orchards and white squirrels. It’s the kind of town where everyone knows everybody; where most folks are either family or close enough to kin that you love them the same. I love my hometown and school, and I truly believe that this area and public school made me into the person I am today.
I was one of those people, who from a very young age knew exactly where I wanted to go in life. I knew that there was no other job I was meant for besides teaching. I had grown up as a child of two schoolteachers. In fact, I have a family tree of educators on both sides, which include just about every grandparent, aunt, uncle, and cousin. I got to see the legacy behind each career. The number of lives each one of them positively impacted, and continues to impact, is the same difference that I want to make as well.
Towards the end of my college career, I knew I wanted to find a school that had the same feeling for students that I got to experience growing up. I wanted a small school where you could learn the names of all the kids in the building, whether they were in high school or kindergarten. I was looking for a school that put an equal weight in career and trade-school readiness as it did in college readiness; one who embraced the rural, agricultural lifestyle. This led me to Miller Schools. I ended up getting an opportunity to teach fourth grade English language arts and social studies in Miller. Like I was accustomed to in Marionville, Miller was a small, rural farming community. My interest was drawn to Miller because of their great academic achievement and its unique opportunity to teach while implementing a four-day school week. But most importantly, Miller was a town that loved its community and school. (Plus, there are very few schools that would allow me to hang two deer head mounts in my room…I knew I had found my home.)
This first year of teaching has been a blast. I had the opportunity to get a head start on my classroom this summer getting it just how I wanted. Even though I definitely felt the nerves on Meet the Teacher night, I never questioned that this was the job God had laid out for me. I remember telling my principal that I hadn’t even gotten my first paycheck yet and I loved working every day, so I wasn’t sure how I could top my excitement. The staff that surrounds me at Miller is one who is supportive and welcoming. They guided me as I adjusted to the routines of the district and helped me learn the ins-and-outs of the people and community. Today, my favorite part of the job is getting to be with the kids every day. I get to build relationships and share my love of learning with students who are learning to love school. My biggest accomplishment that I have observed is connecting my students to books that they enjoy, and seeing the passion they have developed for reading. I also get the opportunity to not only facilitate their learning, but I get to share life with them as they grow. Working at a small school lets me build relationships with all 45 students in my grade level. I can teach them how to identify the theme of a story on Friday, and then Saturday I get to cheer them on at their Mighty Mite football game.
I am not sure if I should be qualified giving advice after only teaching three months. But what I have learned for the first year can be summarized in three pieces. That first piece (and most important in my book) is to enjoy it! Every second at school, you get to choose to bring joy and happiness to someone else’s life. You get to be a source of encouragement, knowledge, safety, and love to someone every day. My second piece of advice is to be flexible. There have been days where I have had the thought “what in the world did we get accomplished today.” Things come up, lessons flop, but staying calm and cool through it will keep it a positive learning experience for all. My last piece of advice is to not become an “8:00 to 3:00” teacher. We all know them; they blaze out just as close to the last bell as they arrive at the first. Go to those Friday night football games; go to grandparent’s night and PTO meetings. Go to the local fall festival. That’s where the community is. When we show that we want to support our students outside of school, the community will return that support for our students in the classroom.
The school in a rural community is not only usually the largest employer; it is the heart of a town. I wouldn’t trade my experience beginning my career in a rural school for any other district today. The sense of family that you are received into when you become part of a small town school is what makes you feel like you are home. It not only gives you the opportunity to pass on knowledge of subjects, but it gives you the opportunity to instill character, wisdom, and moral instruction acquired though your own experiences. This is why I love my school, and I’ll choose small town America over a little higher pay every time.