Connections: Linking Talented Educators
Connections: Linking Talented Educators

Jordan McGaughey: Advice for the Next Chapter

June 4, 2018

Jordan McGaughey Truman State graduates 1000w

In May 2018, Jordan McGaughey (MO '17) was invited to speak at the hooding ceremony for new educators at his alma mater, Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri. His tips to the graduates echo the themes discussed at the 2018 Milken Educator Awards Forum in Washington, D.C.


I attended Truman State from 2003 to 2008, and each and every day I miss something different about my time and experiences here. My primary goal tonight is to offer all of you some wisdom, encouragement, and hopefully motivation as you end one important chapter of your lives and begin the next chapter of your lives as educators.

When I attended Truman State, the world was a very different place. I distinctly remember that in my dorm room in Centennial Hall as a sophomore in 2005, I boldly proclaimed that I would never join Facebook because “Facebook is just a fad, and once people realize how creepy they are being on social media the fad will go away.” Clearly I did not have all the answers then, nor do I pretend to have all the answers now despite any recent success I may or may not have had as an educator. However, I would like to offer all of you some advice and three essential lessons that I have learned as an educator during my career that I hope will be of use to all of you.

1. Dream big.

When I started as an educator, I was an incredibly unconfident new teacher looking to make it to the next day. Any lesson planning, grading and unit construction I did was always designed to make it to the next day. As a result, I resorted to very outdated forms of instruction, and I rationalized this by telling myself that my job was to present information, and the job of my students was to consume and learn the information I presented them. I could not have been more wrong.

As I have progressed throughout my career, I learned that to have success as a teacher, I needed to think and dream bigger. A great teacher constantly pores over each and every activity a student does in order to maximize critical thinking and college readiness skills. A great teacher consistently dreams about students not just being prepared for college, but also being emboldened to make a difference once they graduate from college. Teaching is the one profession that sparks the interests of the world, and this is one of the reasons why I love teaching as much as I do.

I heard this quote from an amazing fellow Milken Educator named Nader Twal (CA '03). In my mind, what separates good teachers from great teachers, and great teachers from life-changing teachers, boils down to this one quote: “Some people dream, some people dream big, and some people dream so big that they cause others to dream.”

When you begin teaching, when you are planning lessons and preparing for the school year, make it a goal to dream bigger each and every day, and be a motivator for students to push themselves to maximize their goals and to reach dreams that they never thought possible.

2. Be 10% bolder.

In order to help motivate our students to dream bigger, we must also do what is necessary to understand how to motivate our students. From my observations, students become motivated significantly more when we attempt to push them outside our comfort zone by being just 10% bolder in the classroom. Each year, my goal as a teacher has been to push myself at least 10% more by attempting something new. Over the years, these movements have come through embedding social media into my classrooms, building in project-based learning or inquiry-based learning, or making a concentrated effort to have my students work in collaboration with others more than half of each week.

What I have found is that you can’t fix every issue within your class after the first year, but if you become 10% bolder each year and build new techniques into your classroom, you will obtain measurable and consistent success each and every year. Eventually, within the course of your first decade as a teacher, you will marvel at how much you have grown from day one of your teaching career if you attempt each year to simply be 10% bolder than the year before. [Editor's note: This concept was first shared with the Milken Educator network by Dr. Angie Besendorfer (MO '96) at the 2017 Milken Educator Awards Forum.]

3. Be the change.

To me, education is a passion and a love more than it is a career. I truly love and value my job and everything that comes with it. That is not to say, however, that everything is perfect about education. Education in America is at a crossroads at the moment. Teachers are protesting for higher wages. Students are protesting for their rights to safety and security in schools. Teachers are tasked with being not only educators but also parents, coaches, guidance counselors, life coaches, and defenders of students both simultaneously and individually depending on circumstances. It has never been more difficult to be an educator in America than it is right now.

And yet, despite all of this, the future remains bright as I look out at groups of up-and-coming educators like yourselves. All of you will foster some type of change within your schools in some major way.

My last challenge to all of you comes from the wise words of another fellow Milken Educator, Eric Crouch (GA '16). Be the change that your students are waiting for; be the change your district is waiting for; and be the change that you are waiting for.

I promise you that every district has its fair share of issues. You will find that out on day one, because some veteran teacher will be sure to tell you of all the issues within your new school whether you want to hear it or not. Your schools will need change in some way. Don’t sit back and allow change to happen in ways that you don’t want to see. It’s never too early to help foster that change in your buildings immediately. Be the change that your buildings need right away.

More importantly, your students deserve that same change. Your students will need you to be a superhero from day one, and it is up to you to come through for your students on day one. Don’t be like me in my first year and expect that students will have to respect you and meld to your expectations. Make it a goal to impact student growth immediately and to educate them in the ways that they truly yearn for. If you do that, I promise you that you will be the change that your students need.

And finally, be the change that you need. A lot will be thrown at you right away, and being graduates from Truman State, you will respond like the rock stars that I know you are. That said, there will be times during your first year when you doubt yourself. I doubt myself and my effectiveness all the time. But that is also a quality that teachers need to have, because without that constant reflection, we can’t push ourselves to meet the needs that our students have right now.

Teachers have to be the change that they need for themselves to grow. If we don’t grow, our students will have no chance of growth. We have to be 10% bolder each year, and we have to dream big in order to foster growth within our students, within our buildings, and within ourselves. Challenge yourself each year to be the change that you need within your career, and I promise that your building and your students will go as far as you lead them.

Thank you once again, graduates of the 2018 Masters of Arts in Education program, and remember to dream big, be 10% bolder, and be the change that your building, your students, and you are waiting for.

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