The pencils are sharpened and the lesson plans are primed. All that’re needed are the students and the teachers.
And while pep rallies are usually limited to the football field, more than 400 teachers and administrators held their own pre-school get-together Aug. 14 at the Teaching to Excellence event at The Regent in Riverview.
“One of the things that is exciting about starting a new year is it is like a kindergartner starting a new school,” Hillsborough County Schools Superintendent MaryEllen Elia told teachers. “You have all types of expectations, you are excited about the friends you are going to meet, and as a kindergartner you get connected to your classmates, your school and your teachers. So all you new teachers are people who connect our students to our schools. Whether it’s in an elementary or high school, you are going to be working with them and making connections.”
Teachers also have a chance to influence young minds for the rest of their lives, Elia said.
“Make sure when you are working with our students, you are connecting with them for success because it will make all the difference in your classrooms and in your schools,” she told teachers.
Elia also thanked parents and supporters who take time to support their local schools.
“You can’t imagine the support that people feel at those school sites when you sponsor something at the school or come into the schools,” she said. “You may come into the school on Teacher Appreciation Day, and I can tell you it all makes a difference because the connection between community and schools is huge.”
One of those who will be molding young minds for the first time this semester is Lauren Hayes, a new teacher of reading at Summerfield Elementary.
A transplant from Delaware, where she taught part-time afterschool, Hayes said teaching fulltime is a realization of a dream.
“I love it,” she said. “I have kids, and I love working with children and I always have, and I have always wanted to teach, so that’s how I wanted to make a difference.”
There is something special about being able to spark something in a young mind and let them know they can do anything, Hayes said.
“I came from a very poor family, and I went on to get master’s degrees, and I want them [the students] to know they can make something of themselves no matter where they came from.
The elder statesman of Hillsborough County schools, Earl Lennard, the former superintendent for whom Ruskin’s Lennard High is named, said he is always impressed by the caliber of the teachers recruited to Hillsborough County schools.
“I think each year we get better and better teachers here,” Lennard said. “The more complex the education system becomes, the more the young people rise to meet that challenge.”
Teachers today face many more challenges with a multitude of distractions for young students competing for their attention from video games to social media, Lennard said.
“The media draws their attention and you have all kinds of video and audio devices demanding their attention that in my day — I started teaching in 1963 —we never had any of that. You had a movie theater, maybe a school dance every once in a while, we didn’t have the kind of things that youngsters are pulled into today.”
Today’s teachers have to compete more than ever, Lennard said.
“And that attention span is very, very short, so a teacher has to be on their toes completely, 60 minutes of every hour.” Lennard has no doubt today’s young teachers are up to the task.
“As I look across this group,” he said, “I see the vast majority of the teachers are young people who just graduated from college or have been doing it for a couple of years, and they grew up with this type of distraction and media exposure and social media, so I think there’s no question they are up to the challenge.