Launch. verb. To send forth, to set in motion.
Yesterday, I had the privilege of speaking at my university’s Teacher Appreciation Dinner. It was an evening to celebrate and thank the cooperating teachers who helped launch student teachers into the education world. This is the speech I shared. As I step into my own classroom, I have never been more grateful for the mentoring I received from my cooperating teachers during student teaching. However, in the spirit of Teacher Appreciation Week, I want these words to go out to all teachers. You are all incredible individuals whose heart and perseverance matter, even when you don’t see it.
Last summer, my younger sister visited the Johnson Space Center and brought me back a t-shirt. It says Mission Control Center. I will never work at NASA – there’s a reason I teach English – but if I did, this is where I would want to be. And in a way, I already am. To me, teachers are the Mission Control Centers of a classroom.
This is what the Mission Control Center does: The NASA website simply says, “Mission Control Gets Us Into Space.”
A real Mission Control center is a giant room, full of many different stations and computer monitors. Each has a different function. At NASA, they are lucky. There are individuals who man each station, each with a specific job. As teachers, it’s different. One person does everything. We are the ground controllers, who oversee activities. We are the data processors, who make meaning from test scores. We are the surgeons who monitor health – and hand out band-aids. We are the Public Affairs Officers, who give commentary on missions to concerned parents. We are the guidance navigation system that notices impending abort situations. (There have been a few of those in my classroom, I know.) And we are the flight directors, who make sure the overall procedures are safe and successful.
I recently started my first teaching job, working with 7th and 8th graders, and I am continually amazed by how many of those roles there are to fill – at the same time! Someone is bleeding while someone else has a question on how to start the assignment everyone else has finished while two kids in the back are plotting an alien invasion. It takes amazing skill to make the everyday classroom mission safe and successful.
And you, our cooperating teachers, have gone one step further.
You have been the Mission Control for us, the student teachers. You have launched us into the world of education.
I first realized the challenges of teaching as a third grader. I was playing teacher to my younger siblings, and I was almost immediately frustrated when I sat down to make a multiplication worksheet. My parents are both teachers, and I was amazed that they chose to do something like that every single day.
Fifteen years later, while student teaching with elementary ESL kiddos, I found myself in exactly the same spot. I was trying to teach kindergarteners, and I had spent what felt like hours planning for a fifteen minute lesson. I remember calling my mom and asking “Why is it so complicated to teach something so simple?”
You, our cooperating teachers, are the reason that we’ve pushed through those moments.
I was fortunate enough to work with two incredible cooperating teachers. My first one sharpens everyone around her, in the best way. She watched me teach a few lessons, and told me, “I could leave you alone and say you’re doing well, because you are. But I want to make you even better.” I learned to pace lessons “boom-boom-boom-boom,” as she would say, and it has helped me – and my students – thrive.
My second cooperating teacher is the kind of person who would run an entire marathon with someone, just to encourage that person. That’s not even a metaphor – she’s actually done that. She did that in the classroom for me as well. One day, early on in my placement, I left school feeling completely incompetent. Later that night, she sent me one of the most encouraging emails I have ever received. She made me feel more confident and like my ideas were valued. I’m lucky enough to be working down the hall from her now. When I pop in on a near-daily basis to ask questions, she still does.
I want to leave you with my favorite image of what mission control centers do. This footage is from when the Curiosity rover successfully landed on Mars. This is what you, our cooperating teachers, do for us.
When I found a full-time teaching job after graduating in December, this is the kind of support I felt from the teachers I worked with. Our successes are celebrated like they are your own. And in a way, they are.
You’ve guided us. You’ve given up your prep times to go over our lesson plans. You’ve made extra copies of every assignment you do so we could start building our resources. You’ve written letters of recommendation. You’ve inspected us and made sure we’re ready.
Thank you for helping us fly.
Image from Sweetie187 via Flickr