GaDOE: When did you first realize you wanted to be a teacher?
Nancy Rogers: I first realized I wanted to be a teacher in March of 2000, while on a plane returning home from San Antonio, Texas from a week-long meeting with the pharmaceutical company with which I was a sales representative. I was making a substantial amount of money and was “climbing the corporate ladder.” After two and a half years doing this job, something was still missing. I was making a living but not making a difference. I decided on that plane trip that I was going to have to make a career change if I were ever going to fulfill the purpose God intended for my life. I cannot explain how this decision came to me, but somehow that day I innately knew that I was going to make a change. My purpose was not to work in the corporate world, so I gave up the “opportunity of a lifetime” to pursue what I had always felt in my heart was my calling: teaching. Within six months I had a job at a private school and was learning from my mentors how to become a great teacher. I have never, ever regretted that decision, although it meant making major financial sacrifices along the way. The money I made with that company can never surpass the feeling of accomplishment I feel when I see my students succeed. Now instead of wishing I could make a difference, I have the chance to do so every day in my classroom.
GaDOE: What keeps you in the classroom?
Nancy: The answer to this one is easy: my children. They make me laugh, teach me lessons about life, and inspire me to be a better teacher each day. The rewards of teaching are found in the faces and lives of my students; it is seeing the student who has struggled all year finally “get it” and pass on to the next grade. It is a student saying “thank you” and really meaning it. It is the students who leave notes on my board and come back to see me years after they have been in my class just to visit. It is the students who go off to college and pursue a career in teaching (especially if they decide to teach English). It is the laughter when one of us does something silly in class; it is the sadness each year as I watch another group of “my” students leave our school for the “real world.” It is the little notes that students leave on my desk when I am not there; it is the hugs I get each day. It is the smile on the face of my student who survived cancer, the excitement when they start to understand Shakespeare, and the tears when we say goodbye each May. It is the pride I feel when I watch them cross the stage during graduation. Nothing feels better than knowing that I have made a difference in the lives of my students. Each year when I get a new group I tell them that they will forever be one of “my children,” and I mean it.
GaDOE: What character qualities make great teachers?
Nancy: Great teachers are the best role models, both to students and other teachers. Great teachers are passionate- Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” Great teachers inspire everyone around them to be better – the students, other teachers, even administrators. Great teachers get to school early, they stay late; they worry about their students and pray for them. Great teachers do not care about standardized test scores because they know that those scores do not reflect the character and intelligence of their children. Great teachers get so excited and nervous about the first day of school that they cannot sleep the night before. Great teachers write notes to their students for a job well done, and gently correct them when they need it. Great teachers do not make excuses or complain about what they cannot change; instead, they offer solutions and encourage others.
GaDOE: What is your favorite part of the school year? Why?
Nancy: My favorite part of the school year is always the first week. I love meeting my new children each year and learning about them. I begin with open house; I make sure to get contact information from all the parents that come to visit the school. I send a personal note to each parent letting them know how excited I am to have his or her child in my class. I talk to my students and treat them with respect; I make it my business to know their business. I always learn ALL of my children’s names by the end of the first week of school; I know how important that is to them. I feel as though each and every child that enters my classroom was sent to me personally, that there is a reason that particular child ended up in my room instead of someone else’s. The first week is my chance to make connections with my children and start our year off on a positive note.
GaDOE: What is the funniest thing a child has ever said to you?
Nancy: Kids say funny things all the time, so it is difficult to choose just one. Recently, I was teaching a lesson on life in the 1960s as part of our unit on The Outsiders; on one slide I listed modern things that were not around in the 1960s, one of which was a television remote control. One student asked, “If they didn’t have TV remotes, how did they change channels?”
Another item was the microwave, to which another student asked, “How did they cook Hot Pockets back then?”
GaDOE: What is your favorite technology to use for engaging students in learning?
Nancy: Although we use a plethora of different technology formats/programs, two of my favorites are Commonlit.org and Newsela. Commonlit.org is an ELA program that provides students with passages on a large variety of subjects. The questions are aligned to state standards, and for the most part they are very challenging. It can be individualized for each student, and I can allow them to redo the assessments if students do not perform well. The texts are differentiated and engaging to most students, while still providing practice with the skills the students need most. Commonlit.org is a great tool to help students become better readers and writers.
Newsela is super beneficial because it provides daily articles on topics that are currently in the news. I use Newsela for articles of the week with my students to keep them abreast of what is going on in the world. Since we are in a rural area, often students will come to class and be unaware of major issues/events in the world. Newsela helps me connect my students to their world, while developing their reading and writing skills. Each passage can be leveled for different readers; since I teach three different 8th grade levels, this is an important, useful tool for my students. I also use Google Classroom as the major means of communication/assignments with my students; it has been game-changing!
GaDOE: Everyone likes to know the morning routine of successful people. What is yours?
Nancy: I begin each school morning early (around 5 a.m.) because I commute to work. I always watch the news to catch up on what is happening in the world, and discuss what I’ll be doing after school with my husband. Before leaving home, I always take a minute to talk to my two Labrador retrievers, Buster and Rylie, on my way out the door. This may seem like a small thing, but they put me in a good mood and calm my nerves on even the craziest mornings.
Although many people do not like the idea of traveling to work each day, I actually love it. It gives me time to pray, think about the day ahead, and get into a positive frame of mind before seeing my students and colleagues. Talking to God and listening to His music on the commute puts everything into perspective for me. Praying is the most important thing I do each morning; I always ask God to give me patience, help me love my children, and be a positive influence on those around me. The beginning of each day usually prefigures what the rest of the day will be like, so I try to start as positively as possible.
Upon arrival at school, I speak to each teacher as I head down the hallway to my room; I have been told by some colleagues that they love my smile and “Good Morning!” each day. By the time I get to my classroom, there are usually two to three students there waiting on me. It has been that way since I started teaching; I talk with them and they help me prepare for the day. I usually have several teachers visit before 8 a.m. as well; I am a problem solver, and I love to help people, which I guess is why I am never alone in my room!
GaDOE: What do you tell students when they need encouragement?
Nancy: Encouraging students happens A LOT in my classroom. In 8th grade so many students struggle with identity, academics, family situations, and social issues. The first thing I always do is look them in the eye and LISTEN to what they are telling me. I want to understand the issue they are having before I can offer a solution. Sometimes just listening them is all the encouragement they need; however, that is not always the case.
When a student is facing a problem, I try to understand the situation and relate it to something I have experienced in the past. I try to find a connection between us so the student feels comfortable with me. Sometimes I just give them a hug and tell them that everything is going to be okay – often that is really all they need. The most important part of encouragement is knowing my students well enough to understand what they need; some students just need a smile, a hug, or a snack, while others truly need my guidance in making tough decisions. I’ve been told many times during my teaching career that the positive classroom environment I have is encouraging/comforting to many students.
I also write notes to students if I see they are upset about something, or when they have received an award, made honor roll, etc. I have found that students love getting a handwritten note from the teacher. I’ve had many parents of past students tell me that their students kept their letters from me because they were so important to them. Writing a short note of encouragement takes very little time, but it can make a huge difference in someone’s day.
GaDOE: What do you tell other teachers when they need encouragement?
Nancy: Just like with my students, this happens a lot with colleagues in my room. When a teacher comes to me in need of advice/encouragement, the first thing I do is LISTEN to them. Often, the best form of encouragement is just someone with a kind smile and a listening ear. I always try to figure out a solution to the problem and offer my assistance. I have been told that my enthusiasm and positive attitude are contagious, which I consider a tremendous compliment. Sometimes I pray with them and hug them, especially if they are going through a difficult situation.
One of my teammates’ father is currently battling cancer, so we have had many days where we just talk, pray, and cry together. For whatever reason, my room seems to be the place that everyone comes to with their problems. Although I never have all the answers, most of them leave my room feeling much better than they did when they entered.
Just like with students, I write notes to colleagues whenever I see that someone needs a little encouragement or is facing a difficult situation. I always make sure to write thank you notes too. I keep lots of extra note cards in my desk drawer in case I need them.
When all else fails, I direct them to the chocolate drawer behind my desk – that always makes the situation better!
GaDOE: What is the best teaching advice you’ve received?
Nancy: The best teaching advice I’ve received was from Mr. Frank Delaney, the principal who helped me begin my career at Thomas County Schools. He always said, “You have to love them [the children] where they are.” I have found this to be true the last seventeen years in the classroom; you have to love the children for who they are, regardless of their backgrounds and abilities. Every child is unique and intelligent in his or her own way, and it is our jobs as teachers to find the potential in each one of them. Children come to us with problems that we will never know or understand – broken homes, abusive situations, and countless other issues. They look to us as role models, and we should always be mindful of that fact. We have to love them for who they are and where they are in their lives right at that moment; it is not our job to judge them or try to change them. Relationships are very important to me – both with my students and fellow teachers. I know that I have been able to relate to my students and colleagues over the years because of this sage advice from Mr. Delaney all those years ago.