By Sarah Archer
What is a classroom family? You often read about what it actually means to be part of a family and that family often doesn’t mean blood relations. As a teacher for almost 18 years, I have found this to be undeniably true. Every year I welcome a new group of students into my classroom. I learn to love them like my own, set high expectations of growth and success for each of them, and watch as they create incredibly strong and positive bonds with their classmates. Then each spring, we say goodbye.
This month, I welcomed 26 fourth graders to the room 18 family. These fourth graders bring seven home languages that include Spanish, Fulani, Yoruba, Amharic, Djerma, Haitian Creole, and English into our classroom. As I look around, I wonder how I will do it. How will I be everything each of my students needs this school year? How will I communicate with my students who are just beginning their English language acquisition? How will I create a classroom environment set on the foundation of love, acceptance, and comfort? How will I make sure that every single one of my students knows that I will do whatever it takes for them to feel seen and valued? How will I make sure that my students know that we are a family?
As I asked these questions, I quickly reminded myself of what I know to be true as an educator: You just start. You start smiling, praising, and providing every opportunity you can for students to get to know one another. You set high expectations and detailed procedures from day one so that students thrive. You make time to get to know what your students like, dislike, and find comfort in. You remember what matters most: building authentic and positive relationships with each of your students while simultaneously providing opportunities for your students to do the same with one another.
Remembering Your Why
Back to school brings so many emotions for teachers. This year, as the state of Indiana sees record unfilled teaching positions, it brings sadness to my heart. I know what teachers experience each day, each month, and each year. I feel, to my core, both the joys and challenges of a career in education. However, I am sad that more people are not choosing this profession. A profession filled with so much joy, love, and fulfillment. I am sad that more are not celebrating educators for the difference they make.
Many are shocked by my love of teaching. “I don’t know how you do it!” I often hear. My thought each time is this: I remember my why. My why is kids and doing what is best for them. My why is loving them through it all and showing up each day for them. My why is helping to impact our future so that we can see change in this world.
Sarah Archer is a 4th grade teacher leader at Chapelwood Elementary School in Indianapolis, Indiana and a 2023–24 Teach Plus Indiana Policy Fellow.