First of a nine-part series spotlighting each GCU college as the fall semester begins.
By Mike Kilen
GCU News Bureau
It’s a pledge to inspire a greater future, and what a prime time for that.
“It was more a commitment to myself,” said Kendall Roberts, a senior education major at Grand Canyon University. “I grew up with great teachers in my life. I want to be great.”
Roberts signed the Lopes Teach Up pledge, an initiative to support teachers and champion teaching and learning.
College of Education leaders say there never has been a more important time to sign a pledge that shines a light on a career too often bogged down in education rhetoric instead of servant leadership to empower students.
“In this new normal, there is a new focus on the value of teachers and teaching,” said Dr. Marjaneh Gilpatrick, Associate Dean of COE. “Many think if you have gone to school, you can teach. Now, we have discovered it isn’t so easy. There is a science behind teaching to build knowledge and build relationships with students and find out what their learning styles are.”
The pandemic meant that some parents had to help their children learn at home. It led to an awakening on the value of teachers, many who are returning to classrooms. It’s time to honor them with a pledge that reads:
Teaching is truly one of the greatest and noblest professions. As our students embark on their teaching journeys, we stand behind them and hope they never lose sight of why they choose to teach. Take the pledge to: 1. LIVE your purpose; 2. SHARE your passion, 3. INSPIRE the future.
“We have been in a time of teacher shortage for a while, and we really wanted to emphasize the respect and value of our educators and the great work they do,” COE Dean Dr. Kimberly LaPrade said of the 2018 launch of Lopes Teach Up.
“Little did we know, two years later we would be in a pandemic and it’s more important than ever. These times are so stressful, there is so much anxiety in the world, and those teachers especially are on the front lines and are expected to do so much with so little.”
GCU is the largest producer of educators in Arizona, graduating 7,144 in 2019-20. Roberts expects to be one of them this year, giving a nod to the teachers in her life.
“Mostly, it was their care for the student as a person first, even before education,” she said. “I always felt valued as a person. Just being able to have conversations with them and gain that respect from them made me respect them even more.”
Taking the pledge was a statement about teaching as more than a job but one that prepares students to have a successful life.
“I wanted to remind myself why I want to be a teacher,” she said. “Especially with everything going on today, there are going to be more hardships.”
The pledge isn’t complaining about all the added stresses heaped on teachers by society or about a lack of funding. There may be truth in those complaints, but Lopes Teach Up aims for a brighter approach.
“We saw a need for positive voices really surrounding the field of education with good and uplifting educators,” said Emily Pottinger, COE’s Assistant Dean.
Faculty members jumped in to sign it, too, and it was more than just scribbling their names.
Pottinger and COE Faculty Chair Dr. Meredith Critchfield launched a podcast, “Top of the Class,” which carries the same goals of uplifting the profession and giving teachers hope.
“You have to shift the thought process. It’s easy to get stuck in the negatives when you are feeling overwhelmed,” Pottinger said. “We are sharing each other’s stories and how we have overcome some of those challenges, being action oriented rather than reactionary or just complaining.”
She said many got into teaching because “it was our calling and purpose,” she said.
“For those of us that took that pledge, it is intrinsic motivation. It’s not something we are signing to get kudos. It’s because we feel so strongly about uplifting the teaching profession, so we are doing it with our heart and soul.”
Anyone is invited to sign the pledge, from any walk of life, from any town or city.
“Everyone wants to support a teacher. Really, they teach our future,” LaPrade said. “Every single job started with a teacher. If you want to be an astronaut, or want to be a photographer, or a scientist or cosmetologist, teachers laid that foundation and are a part of the journey in your career.
After signing, Gilpatrick urges action: “You can go to a school board meeting, talk to your representatives about increasing funding for teachers or per-pupil spending, go to a PTO meeting even if you don’t have kids in school, or volunteer to read to a student.”
It’s not just a signature.
Elle Duncan says it reminds her why she wanted to be a teacher.
“It’s important to put out to others than teachers have dedicated themselves to helping others and being passionate about the lives we touch every day,” said Duncan, a junior elementary education major at GCU.
She was inspired by her mother, who was in education, and she saw students approach her years later and tell her she helped change their lives.
“That is something I want to do as a teacher,” she said.
For Roberts, teaching isn’t about the money. At first, she studied business because she thought teachers didn’t make enough. But after seeing the joy and purpose in other education majors on her GCU Cheer team, she switched to a major that really was at her core.
“I called my parents and they said, ‘We are so glad you figured that out. We knew you’d make a great teacher.’”
Alumni also have lauded the pledge. Anthony Perez, a 2011 GCU graduate and second-grade teacher at Sunset Elementary School in Phoenix, said it goes beyond a celebration of nice teachers.
“We haven’t been highlighting what we do as practitioners,” he said. “We are experts in our field. I compare it to the medical profession. Doctors run tests and analyze them and make a diagnosis. Teaching is like that. Reading is a brain science, and we have to analyze what parts of the brain children use to read.
“I’m much more than a teacher. I’m a practitioner.”
But building relationships is also vital, especially in the urban district where students may have more stresses at home.
“They want love just like anybody else. When they come to school, they get that love,” he said. “They get to hear, ‘I believe in you.’”
Lopes Teach Up says that GCU believes in teachers.
Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.
Also in the series:
GCU Today: CSET programs earn prestigious accreditation