Saving All the StarfishApril 4, 2019
By Sarah Szymanski
Sarah Szymanski (CO '18) loves teaching because of the committed network of adults around her: “[They] work together each day for the betterment of children.” She teaches second grade at Soaring Eagles Elementary School in Colorado Springs.
We all know the story of the little girl, the old man, and a beach full of stranded starfish on the shore. The girl throws a starfish into the sea, and the old man asks, “Why are you doing this? You can’t save them all!” “Well, I can save this one!” she replies. He proceeds to join her in her task.
My mother told me this story at the start of my teaching career and gave me a glass starfish keychain. It was to serve as a reminder of those special children that we teach each year, the ones we “save.” Why do I love teaching? I love it not just for the starfish we save, but also for the starfish still on the beach, the starfish that are already in the water, and those who help us learn how to throw them back in.
When children struggle in school, there are a multitude of causes. Children may experience poor prior instruction, transiency due to parents’ jobs, unstable home lives, learning and behavioral disabilities, and so much more. It is our job to be diagnosticians—to determine the root causes, create a plan of action, analyze results, and then reevaluate. It is our job to teach our starfish how to grow in all areas of need so they can get back into the water.
The charge is intimidating. Some children will leave our classrooms not yet ready to get back into the water. It’s an uncomfortable feeling when our children are stuck on the proverbial beach. But did we get them closer? Are they proud of their progress? Are they now prepared with the skills needed to continue moving closer to the water without our hands to guide them? If so, then we have done our job. There is simply no better feeling.
As educators, we mustn’t forget the starfish who are already in the water when we find them. They may be blessed with gifts of critical thinking and problem-solving, or possess impressive background knowledge. Standard curriculum may seem easy for them. But things are not always as easy as they appear, and those waters can become choppy below the surface. Finding these students’ growth areas and helping them reach their full potential is as critical as it is inspiring.
When I think about the old man helping the little girl throw starfish back into the sea, I think about how many more starfish were helped because of his influence. Without their collaboration, so many more would have remained stranded and struggling. One of the reasons I love teaching is because of the passionate network of women and men who work together each day for the betterment of children. When teachers, counselors, support personnel and administration put the development of the whole child first, we can grow and support children via growing and supporting one another.
Whether our starfish students are in the sea, approaching it, or in the dunes far from the shore, there is no better feeling than playing an integral role in getting our little ones as far as they can go. We’re here for you, little starfish, every day. We’ve got you. It’s why we love teaching.
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