How My Core Values Shape my Life as a Public School Teacher


I’ve lived in Vermont nearly all of my life, with the exception of a semester when I studied and worked in Madrid, Spain. 

My brother and I were raised in a very supportive family with strong core values, and for a long time, I thought all families were like ours.

Now, as a mom and a teacher, I know different. I’ve seen different types of families in school and have learned about them through my studies. After taking a class on poverty and its effects on students, I’ve learned that my family is very typically middle-class. Therefore, I have had to work extra hard to understand the situations that my students face, given that I teach in one of the lowest-income districts in the state.

Learning about poverty to better understand students.
I take classes to better understand where my students are coming from

I won’t be the first (or last) person to write about this topic, but teaching is difficult. Teenagers are difficult to deal with. Teaching teenagers who are coming from diverse and disadvantaged backgrounds add yet another layer to the challenges I face daily as a teacher. Put those factors together, and my work is extra difficult. Teenagers come with all sorts of baggage, and even though I think I must have heard it all after teaching for eight years, they still surprise me. There are bright spots, of course, as well as truly challenging days.

I maintain a positive outlook by relying on my core values.

Robert Fulghum’s idea that “All I really need to know, I learned in kindergarten” truly resonates with me. I’d say that my core values are quite in line with what Mrs. King (my kindergarten teacher) taught me:

  1. Respect each other. Understand and recognize differences between ourselves and others, make an effort to empathize with their situation, and don’t assume that you are always right.
  2. Be kind. Show empathy, offer support, and be a good listener.
  3. Be patient. Remember that we all live different experiences and that not everyone knows or can do the same things.
  4. Respect your body. Don’t take drugs, be conscious of what you eat, and exercise.
  5. Work hard and be proud of what you’ve accomplished. Don’t compromise your standards for someone else, and celebrate even the small achievements.
  6. Set goals and take steps to reach them.  Have an idea of what you want to achieve, and make a plan.
  7. Be a lifelong learner. Accept that the world is constantly changing, and commit to both personal and professional growth.

While these values are hard-set for me, I find that my students quite often have been raised with a different set of values.

This means that I need to be aware and respectful of their home life and values but not compromise my own values.

To some, this means that I am a strict teacher. However, I make an effort to maintain a “laid-back” atmosphere in my class so that my students feel comfortable. I share my family life with my students to some extent, so that they know they may share their lives with me. I suppose that strict and laid-back seem like a paradox, but for me, the combination works. I want students to feel comfortable, but also know where my boundaries are in my classroom. Students need to feel I will keep them safe if someone crosses this line.

high school classroom
The view from my desk

Sometimes, being a teacher requires me to solve situations creatively.

I might not always find a solution right away, but my core values help to guide my decision-making.

There is a constant battle between meeting my students’ social, emotional, and academic needs, and finding that balance is tough. Over my eight years in the classroom, I have learned to trust myself and I have become much more confident in my ability to problem-solve.

How have your core values helped you in the workplace?


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