During the two years I worked at this school I was able to apply teaching practices, serve children, and watch families be transformed. I observed how education changed lives and brought hope to the tiny inner-city community, and the echo of “for such a time as this” flooded my heart. Each day revealed more and more the need for passionate, knowledgeable, and “called” educators. It was during my second year teaching for the Faith-Based organization that I once again I felt a wave of change approaching. I struggled with the reality of making the change, but on a hot June afternoon, I drove by what would become my future school. It was crystal clear that I was to begin teaching in that new school that fall. Though the change was not what I was looking for, I was reaching my second stepping-stone.
In just a matter of weeks I received my teaching assignment as a kindergarten teacher for this new Memphis City School. This extremely large school district was opening a new school in an inner-city community. It was then that I knew that it was a time such as this for this small town farm boy to join other passionate educators to begin this new school. The student population was larger than the entire population of my hometown, but I was ready to face this new season. It became extremely obvious that education was going to become a catalyst to bring change to the community. Communities need achieving schools that meet both students and parents where they are and elevate them to success.
It was while serving/teaching in this school that I began to see how teachers have to speak up. We have to know our content and how to share our voice in such a way that others don’t just tune us out. We have to take leadership roles and stand up for what we believe, not just for us, but also for the students we serve. For me, my soapbox was early childhood and teacher effectiveness. I found myself frustrated because mandates were requiring best practice to be abandoned and teacher effectiveness was being measured by terms that seemed ridiculous.
I followed my heart and year after year sent students to first grade who exceeded standards and demonstrated remarkable improvements. It was during this time that I became involved with many leadership projects and demonstrated that hard work, determination, and collaboration were the ways to gain student achievement. I would have 7 years of success in this school and at the end of the seventh year I was again at the next stepping-stone and faced with the reminder that it was time for change. I would still teach kindergarten in Memphis, but I would be working for Shelby County because we had just merged districts.
In the fall of 2013, I began teaching kindergarten at my current school. I had no idea that this new stepping-stone in my life would lead me to numerous open doors and allow me to have an even louder voice at the table. This voice allows me to not only speak on behalf of the children, but also colleagues. I make it a point to listen to others and then share what I have learned through my experiences. There is nothing else I’d rather do then teach children and impact the future of education. So looking back I wouldn’t trade a moment. I wouldn’t skip over any stepping-stone because in doing so I would be altering my course of being here in this moment and shaping the future of so many children’s lives. Today’s teachers aren’t in education for the money, but instead are in education at this moment, for such a time as this.
For such a time as this, education desperately needs passionate, knowledgeable, and called educators. Students need bell-to-bell instruction and teachers who have high expectations for each one of their successes. Teachers must be leaders, and even though we face many hurdles, we have fix our eyes on the end goal and run the race set before us. As we run this race, a teacher’s voice is extremely important. I have learned by experience in the trenches of education that leaders and policymakers want to hear our voice. We must elevate our voice to speak for the children. We must elevate our voices to speak for the city of Memphis. Communities need achieving schools. Achieving schools won’t happen without educators who are ready to run the race. Students need teachers who know their content and have the ability to connect with students. Students need teachers who believe that they are teaching for such a time as this.
Currently many educators have begun the countdown to when they can abandon the profession and start a new journey. Though these educators are ready to quit, I find inspiration and hope in the reality that it is for such a time as this when most educators stick together. We make our voice heard at the table and are instruments of change. We join together to be vessels of change. When teachers elevate their voice and empower students and families, communities will begin to transform. We will see happy students, happy families, thriving communities, and a nation that can be a leader in education. In order to meet the demands of the future, we cannot continue to just do things the way we always have. I am not one that does well with change of my routines and structure; however, I do know that each day requires a solutions oriented mindset.
I don’t have a crystal ball with all of the answers, but do know that there is greatness on the horizon. Educators must unite their voice and steer the course. We must see that we are educators for such a time as this. We hold the keys to the future, and it is our responsibility to unlock the greatest potential in each and every child. Just as we are educators for such a time as this, there will come a day when the very children before us will be a doctor, lawyer, mayor, or even president for such a time as this. This is our time; we should unite together and prepare students for their time.
Mark Wittman has taught Kindergarten/1st Grade for the past 22 years. He currently teaches Kindergarten at Riverwood Elementary School in Shelby County. He is a Nationally Board Certified Teacher and passionate about student success. He is a leader amongst his peers serving as a District Learning Day Fellow and a Teacher Leader implementing an Alternative Growth Measure for Kindergarten teachers. Mark has served as a Tennessee Core Coach and is currently a Facilitator presenting on the Revised Tennessee Academic Standards. He holds a Master’s Degree from The University of Memphis in Leadership and Policy Studies. Mark received his Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education with a Concentration in Early Childhood from Emporia State University. He also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging his colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.