Teachers gear up for 2017-18 school year

By BUSTER WOLFE,

Teachers in the Lamar County School District were asked an important question last week as every administrator and instructor from the 15 public schools gathered at Temple Baptist Church.

The question: What is Your Why? –  the theme for this year’s school year in Lamar County. Along with a motivational speech by Dr. Erick Witherspoon of Redlands, California, several employees told the group last Friday morning why they enjoy teaching or being an administrator.

Witherspoon, who is Director of Equity at school development resource Generation Ready, said other questions are also important.

“How will our students be impacted this year by our commitment to excellence,” he said. “In addition to asking ourselves about achievement and these daunting goals that we have, we have to pause and ask, ‘How will I get this done?’ And ‘How will I execute this plan?’ And ‘What will I do during this school year to make good on the promise?’ The most important question we must ask this school year is not the ‘what’ or the ‘how.’ It is the ‘why.’ To ensure success for the scholars of Lamar County, we must know our ‘why.’ Knowing your ‘why’ will powerfully impact your ‘what’ and how you will bring about this great success.”

Witherspoon said educational leaders will have to administer CPR every day.

“No, not that CPR,” he said. “It is these three things – Connecting, Prioritizing and Responding. … In our journeys as educators, we can all identify one teacher who had a powerful impact on our life. Mr. Stewart, my fifth-grade teacher, was mine.”

Witherspoon said connecting with students inspires students and wants them to be successful. He added that prioritizing means taking time to build relationships daily.

“Prioritizing also means closing the achievement gap by closing the relationship gap,” he said. “I am convinced that the achievement gap that exists across our nation will be eliminated and closed when the relationship gap is eliminated. We close this relationship gap through awareness. If we want to connect with students, we must build relationships through awareness. We must be aware of students’ needs and we must prioritize those needs.”

Witherspoon said educators’ actions and attitudes are “the secret sauce to students’ success.”

“As educators, we have this long litany of responsibilities,” he said. “But never forget as you focus on your ‘why’ that in addition to being a teacher, you also are the counselor, the doctor, the mother, the father, the therapist, the lean-on-my-shoulder caregiver and many others. Being a difference-maker requires that we respond to students’ needs, which is fueled on a daily basis by understanding our ‘why.’”

Witherspoon said educators can literally save someone’s life by responding to their needs.

“Our students face daunting life challenges,” he said. “We must be aware of the critical response our students need from us. Sadly, some students seek to destroy their lives in many lives, and sometimes ultimately destroying their lives through suicide. We have to be aware of those cues.”

During the event, Oak Grove High School Principal Helen Price was singled out as the district’s Administrator of the Year, while Julie Viguerie – who is teaching Teacher Academy this year at the Lamar County Center for Technical Education – was Teacher of the Year.