CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The end of 2012 brings me to the end of a 37-year career teaching over 2,000 students in West Virginia.
Today, as I face my last few days in the classroom, I am giving thought to all of the changes I've seen in education, kids and society. From this teacher's perspective in two different centuries, I still believe that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
From chalkboards, to dry erase boards, to SMART boards, the world is different. But one thing hasn't changed. The students. Deep down, kids are the same today as in 1972 when I walked out of university classrooms and into my own classroom as an elementary school teacher.
Kids are growing up in a more complicated and challenging world these days, with more violence, crime, pressure, addiction, unemployment, poverty, poor nutrition, divorce, drugs, homelessness, depression, irresponsibility, and disrespect than ever. Those things take a definite toll on students as they grow and learn. It changes them in sad and scary ways.
But the good news is there are many dedicated, skilled, and caring teachers in our state who go beyond the book, beyond the school walls, and beyond the school day to educate their students, to help them cultivate good character, and to teach them to give back to make the world a better place.
I believe that teaching is a calling; in fact, I believe that it is the highest calling.
John Dewey, William James, and Dale Carnegie all taught that the deepest need in human nature is the need to be needed, noticed, valued and affirmed. The sign on my desk tells the story: I love you enough to listen. In our soaring technological lives, the most important element in teaching is the human element. Good teachers know that and respond in kind.
Kids need-and deserve-teachers who believe in them until they can come to believe in themselves. They need teachers who will stand on the horizon of life with them and let them glimpse their future. They need teachers who will give them a sense of destiny and purpose for being in the world.
The purpose of life is to live a life of purpose. When kids sense this early in life, they tend to focus on the bigger picture of life and often miss many of life's trials and tragedies: Drugs, alcohol, addiction, depression, violence, and crime. Instead, they focus on their quest for academic excellence; they work hard to cultivate their character and confidence. And they stand up and stand out in the world as good employees and good citizens. It is a joy to see!
It will be hard to walk out of my classroom for the last time at the end of this month. But I will continue my life's work by sharing character lessons and success strategies with schools, communities, and businesses around our nation and world. It is my duty and honor.
As Aristotle wrote 2,500 years ago: Where your talents and the needs of the world cross, lies your calling. I will spend the rest of my life answering that call.
Brown, of St. Albans, is a communications center teacher at Alban Elementary, director of the Alban Success Club, winner of the 2010 Paul J. Morris Character Educator of the Year Award, former Milken Family Foundation National Educator of the Year and the author of four books.