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April 5, 2021

Johnston Forward: How I Found My Classroom

There are moments that take us by surprise, that push us out of our comfort zones, that are nothing short of surreal. As I stood next to President Obama and listened to him introduce me as the 2010 National Teacher of the Year (NTOY), at once, I felt the weight of the crystal apple award in my hand and the weight of the work ahead: representing the dedicated and courageous teachers across this country. There was no time for hesitancy; the work to be done was announcing its urgency each time I collected another teacher’s story.

Sarah Obama

The funny thing about stories, authors will often tell you, is the way they write themselves; the way an author creates a character and then writes and waits, seeing where the character takes her. Such was my NTOY experience. One of the misconceptions about the recognition is that it’s all about the honor, when in fact it’s about growing into what a National Teacher of the Year can be. Just like all teachers who face the daily challenges of the classroom and confront that work as a learner, we are authors letting the stories of our character-students propel us onward.

As I was going onward and outward in my 12-month, 37-state, 3-country, 242-speaking engagement adventure, I often was asked, “Are you going back to the classroom?” An innocent enough question, for sure. But the closer my term came to closing, the more often “going back” was offered with seeming consolation. Finally, on a snowy spring morning in Flagstaff, Arizona, a conversation revealed that I was, in fact, not going back to the classroom, I was going forward to it.

I wondered what going forward actually meant, beyond my conceptual understanding of it, at least. Then, as I was doing some of my own writing, it hit me. Going forward, for me, meant starting over. It would be too much to reconcile all I’d learned with what I’d been doing in the classroom. So, I grabbed a flash drive, put all 10,000 files from my years at Johnston on it and made a new folder on my desktop: JohnstonFORWARD. I would start over. Instead of starting with my files, I would start from a new paradigm and reconsider them in light of this new context. And so, I’ve been marching forward this year, nothing more and nothing less than a teacher committed to improving her practice with a fresh mindset.

So, as fellow learners, let’s take a walk of exploration and reflection as I open up my classroom experiences as a blogger for Teaching Channel. Whether it’s exploring shifting the cognitive load of the classroom, figuring out what the Common Core State Standards mean in practice or how to continue to meet students where they are, this is our work to share.

Sarah Brown Wessling, Teacher Laureate

See our Tch Profile of Sarah

Watch Videos of Sarah in Her Classroom


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