Nov. 11, 2016
As the 2017 Teacher of
the Year, Micah Nelson gave the keynote address during IPS’ annual Teacher of
the Year Dinner on Nov. 2 inside the IUPUI Student Center.
During her speech,
Nelson reminded the room full of educators that teaching is hard work and that
even on their most difficult days to never give up. She encouraged teachers to lean
on each other for motivation, inspiration and creativity.
Here are excerpts from
I have been with IPS for 13 years, as a middle and high
school social studies teacher. I began my career at McFarland Middle School and
later joined the Key Learning Community. I am now at the Center for Inquiry
School 2, teaching sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade social studies in the
International Baccalaureate Programme.
If you would have asked 18-year-old Micah what she would be
doing with her life today, there’s no way she would have guessed I’d be
standing here tonight. I went to college with the intention of being an
attorney, but was inspired to pursue education after 9/11. I guess you can say
that I didn’t find education, education found me.
When I arrived in IPS in the fall of 2004, I was as green as
any first year teacher could be. … I started two weeks after school had begun,
so the students had been with a substitute that whole time. Needless to say,
that entire year was a disaster. I was a terrible teacher.
But I am stubborn. I knew that I had committed to this job
and I refused to fail, so I worked to find ways to engage my students. I had a
few wonderful mentors that encouraged my creativity and passion, and eventually
I figured it out.
Having wonderful mentors has been a theme throughout my
career. I have had mentors that recognized my potential and pushed me forward. I
have had principals that allowed me to be what Douglas Reeves calls a
“positive deviant,” allowing me to try new methods and take risks
without fear of being stifled. I have had leaders who believe in distributive
leadership, which has allowed me to hone my leadership skills.
When I was preparing for this speech, I was asked to speak
about what makes me a good teacher. This was a really hard question to answer,
and I took a long time to think about that.
What I came up with is really just a list of how ANYONE could be a good
The first item on the list might seem obvious,
but makes all the difference in the world.
So, the first step in becoming a good teacher is to simply like
children. Good teachers thrive on the energy they get from being around kids.
We seek to build strong relationships with our students, not just because it’s
a good classroom management technique (although it is). Good teachers do it
because we enjoy getting to know each one of our kiddos and love spending time
Secondly, good teachers are themselves, good
learners. We continually seek out learning opportunities and pursue interests
outside of the classroom that make us balanced educators. For me, this has
included one master’s degree, with a second in the works. I have been involved in
research surrounding progressive education for the past 10 years. I know so
many of my colleagues who do the same. Good teachers enjoy learning, improving
their practice, and growing intellectually.
Next on the list is the ability and desire to
collaborate. Good teachers actively seek out ways to collaborate with other
excellent educators. This can look different for each one of us. For some, it
means planning and assessing alongside grade-level or department teams. For
others, it means partnering with one of the Colleges of Education to support
our pre-service colleagues. In the same way that iron sharpens iron,
collaboration ensures that we keep our teaching game on point.
Finally, and this maybe the important item, good
teachers have a strong sense of self-efficacy. We believe, in our heart of
hearts, that we can and will accomplish what we set out to do. We know that we
can affect change in our communities, and we are tireless in that effort. … This
job is not just a job; it is a calling.
Some days are easier to believe this than others. On the
tough days, I continue to believe that I will succeed because this is THE most
important job on earth. The work we do is too important to fail.
Each one of us needs help along the way. We work in the
hardest, best profession around. So when you feel like you have no more gas to
continue, lean on your mentor, collaborate with other excellent educators, and
believe that your efforts will make a difference for our community.