What Moves You? Contest Winner

What Moves You? Contest Winner

by Laurelle Riola-Catbagan

I have been a teacher for close to 20 years - most of them in the fifth grade. By now, anyone would think that the profession itself is what ‘moves me’ since I have stuck with it for so long. Most believe that what we do is extremely rewarding because we get to affect how our students grow and change. Yes, that is true.  But I think it is rewarding in another way as well. I find MYSELF growing and changing. What ‘moves me’ as a teacher might not be what most would expect.  

What ‘moves me’ as a teacher might not be what most would expect.  

Every school year seems to unravel the same way  - the third month often being the most trying. The honeymoon phase is over and students are  starting to show their true colors. The reality of ‘teacher burn out’ begins to settle in. For me, one source of teacher burnout comes from those few students whose shortcomings are magnified around this time. These are the ones who continuously come to school late, no assignments done, poor quality work, are disengaged, always seem negative, and act out in class. They test my patience and drain every last ounce of energy left by the end of the day. Do they not like me as their teacher? What’s going on?

As I try to put together the puzzle pieces to each student’s background story, my heart drops. I find that one girl takes care of her five younger siblings while mom and dad are working. Schoolwork is clearly not a priority for her. I thought she was just lazy. Another student has been spending the night at  different houses because her parents are often fighting. She misses a lot of school days and is often tardy. When she does come to school, her head is often down which I had been mistaking as rudeness. A third lives with his elderly grandparents who do not speak English and cannot help with assignments. He never raises his hand in class, and I’ve labeled him as the shy kid. These are a few of the MANY situations students face every day.  

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Finding that deeper connection and building empathy with my students is what moves me.  

Learning each child’s ‘story’ and sympathizing with their difficult life situations are what moves me. I am moved to count my blessings, and the blessings that I am able to bestow on my own children. I am moved listen with empathy when someone trusts me to share a personal story with. I am moved to not be so swift to judge. I am moved to advocate for my students’ well-being beyond the school day and the school walls. I am moved to treat everyone with the dignity they deserve. I am moved to be a better teacher and a better me. I go through this self reflection and growth every year. And it always seems to happen right when I need it. Finding that deeper connection and building empathy with my students is what moves me.    

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Laurelle Riola-Catbagan
Laurelle Riola-Catbagan

Laurelle Riola-Catbagan is a fifth grade elementary teacher on the island of Kauai, Hawaii. She spent several years experiencing life away from home, but eventually chose to return to the quaint little town in which she grew up to get married and raise her two children. Strong family ties, the unique culture mix, and the Aloha Spirit all drew her back to her island home. She also sees how important it is for the children in her community to have teachers who they can identify with, which is one reason why her passion for teaching is still alive and well.

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