Thursday, October 17, 2013

Professor Ferguson: An Affectionate Moniker

My educator background begins in the context of a small, rural, K-12 school where I had the opportunity to teach secondary math and science.

What impact did this have on me as a teacher?

I had the opportunity to get to know my students and vice versa.  I had the pleasure of seeing my students often, for multiple periods in a day.  Imagine teaching high school students with the same interaction time that is found in an elementary classroom.  The relationships that were forged were strong: I knew my students, and they knew me.  We knew how to push each others buttons and how to motivate each other; when to explore an off-topic idea and when to stay focused on the task at hand; how to work as individuals to accomplish our goals and how to work together to move our learning along; when to find the fun in the day's lesson and when to persevere through the struggle to increase our understanding.

I do not use the term "we" lightly.  I consider myself a learner alongside my students.  It was our classroom, and they affected me as much as I may have influenced them.

There is a comfort in connected, in knowing each other.  The conversations in my classroom were different in some ways than the ones that I recall, having graduated as a big city high school student.  However, they were the same when I consider those memorable teachers who highlight my late teen years.  Relaxed was how I felt in my classroom:  I was confident that my students knew that I was working hard to support them in achieving their goals.

Comfortable and relaxed are probably not terms that anyone wants to hear when describing the relationship between teacher and students.  However, they are the terms that I am attached to when I reflect on my classroom experience.  Please do not mistake an association with questionable or unprofessional.  That is where the fine line is drawn: while I may consider myself a learner alongside them, I also have an awesome responsibility as their teacher to conduct myself in such a way that would be considered acceptable by the standards of the ATA, my administration, and my students themselves.

Yes, students have expectations of teacher conduct.

I was fortunate in my previous experience.  I taught supportive and empathetic students who could be engaging and entertaining with their sarcasm and wit.  My students were with me through two pregnancies, a Masters degree, and many other life events.  So much of who I am as a person is who I am as a teacher, and the reverse is also true.  When they asked how I was feeling, I would respond honestly.  When they asked what I was happening in my coursework, I felt compelled to share.

Honestly, I think that my students may have known more about what was going on in my life than my colleagues.  Why?  Perhaps it was the circumstance of small school multiple subject teaching.  Perhaps it was because I spent more time with these young adults than I did with my staff, between teaching and extracurricular involvement.  Perhaps it was simply because they asked.  When I reflect on how it made me feel to be considered in this light in their lives, it fortified my commitment to connect with and get to know my students.  I also vowed to ensure that I viewed myself through their eyes as part of my reflective process.

It is through their eyes that "Professor Ferguson" was born.

It was shortly after I had completed M.Ed.  "Mrs. Ferguson, now that you are done this degree, what can we call you?"

There was a conversation that took place around the fact that this extra learning, this piece of paper, had done nothing to change my identity.  I was still me, focused on students and improving each day.  They brought up how former principals insisted on being called "Dr." because of their degrees.  We discussed how that was a particular achievement should be celebrated with this sign of respect.  I related it to wanting to be called Mrs., not Ms. or Miss: a loving marriage is work to stay connected to each other and I wear Mrs. as a badge of honour... (I may have cracked a joke about dealing with my husband on a daily basis, to which they laughed as they knew him as the football coach).

"Mrs. Ferguson, you should have a special title too..."

The next moments were filled with my face in a blush and my eyes filled with tears as my students shared their thoughts about me.  What they described was overwhelming, and given our relationship, I could feel the sincerity in their words.  I will forever treasure this day.

"Professor Ferguson" is a nickname that was given to me by a group of teenage classmates who somehow felt that I had done something deserving, or distinguished, or distinct...or some other adjective that they used that day.

Know that I would never be so boastful as to consider myself any of those things, nor would I be so modest to believe that I do not have certain strengths that in combination may make me unique.  I do take pride in the work that I do, in my contributions to education, and in my relationships with my students.  However, on those days when I doubt my abilities, when my stamina may be failing, or when there is a need to persevere, a simple thing can incite a smile and recharge my spirit.  I can look at the e-mail address we created as a class, and now I can view the URL for this blog, in order to momentarily and instantaneously experience how those students made me feel that day.

May I live up to the expectations inherent in the image of "Professor Ferguson", and may you be so blessed in your career to have students make you feel as mine did with this affectionate moniker.