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Joys of Teaching | Teacher Talk

This week one of my teacher besties, Erin Nguyen, stopped by my classroom during lunch to see how I was doing. I told her that I was feeling some writer’s block and would take suggestions for the topic of my next SDPB blog post. She smiled and said, “How about the joys of teaching?” 

Best Friends at Work (BFAW)
One of my mentors, Jeff Lukens, likes to talk about the joy in having a BFAW, and I feel a little joy each time I call any of my closest friends at work my BFAW (bee-fah). Teachers share a passion for mentoring young people and increasing people’s knowledge and understanding of the world. Those shared passions are fertile soil for deep, meaningful relationships to grow, as well as purposeful partnerships in our shared mission. What’s more, we have a shared understanding of the struggles and heartache that go with teaching. Nothing beats dinner or coffee with some of my BFAWs after a week at work. Nothing also beats a hilarious meme that only your teacher besties understand. 

Thousands of Connections
I’ve taught over 3,000 students in my 24 years as a teacher, and the connections don’t stop there as I’ve gotten to know some of their families. Connections made through teaching are a precious privilege. They represent a true cross section of a community economically, culturally, racially, and religiously. I’m often in awe of the diverse people I’ve connected with over the years. My students have ended up working at NASA, the Reader’s Digest, Spotify, the US Capitol building, the Peace Corps, the NHL, and just down the hall from my classroom. Earlier this week a student I had 20 years ago sent me a note. He’s had two careers, both focusing on reading and writing, which makes this English teacher’s heart swell. Additionally, I also have students who have looked the Taliban in the eye, survived terrible abuse, overcome homelessness, and studied hard to get that ACT score they needed for college admission. Even though the connections bring heartache at times, the diverse connections I’ve made in my school community are still one of the greatest joys of not only teaching, but my life. 

Always Learning
I love learning! As a teacher I don’t only facilitate learning, but I am constantly learning too. I’ve read The Great Gatsby over twenty times, and each time I read it with students, I learn something new. Oftentimes, it’s my students who point out something that I’d never considered, and that honestly feels like magic. Besides learning about the subject I teach, I also get to learn about effective teaching practices. Most recently, I’ve learned how to make small group discussions more effective and efficient, which has reduced my students’ temptation to check their phones for social connection because the social connection is happening with the people right in front of them. Finally, I also get to learn about students whether that be the latest lingo or different learning styles. In fact, how people learn and why people learn is something I love to learn!

Gina Benz has taught for over 23 years in South Dakota. She currently teaches Teacher Pathway (a class she helped develop), English 3, English 3 for immigrant and refugee students, and AP English Language at Roosevelt High School in Sioux Falls, as well as Technology in Education at the University of Sioux Falls.

In 2015 Gina was one of 37 educators in the nation to receive the Milken Educator Award. Since then she has written and spoken on a state and national level about teacher recruitment and grading practices. Before that she received the Presidential Scholar Program Teacher Recognition Award and Roosevelt High School’s Excellence in Instruction Award in 2012 and the Coca-Cola Educator of Distinction Award in 2007.