Special education teacher Lauren Dean shared critical insight with this year’s graduating education majors during the Teacher Induction Ceremony in Kuhne Auditorium on May 13.
“Teaching is hard,” she said. “You will face a lot of days where teaching is harder than hard.
“Carrying the emotional burdens home of young people is hard. Meeting the needs of students who are several years below the ‘target’ is hard.”
“Managing 30 different personalities while teaching grade-level standards using engaging instructional strategies that also incorporate technology, various learning styles, and documenting progress so that data can drive your instruction … is hard.”
Dean, the Laurens School District 55 Teacher of the Year, said new teachers and veteran teachers all agree that teaching is hard. But Dean told PC’s graduating education majors not to get discouraged by this reality of teaching. Instead, she encouraged them to “take a moment to think about your big red button.”
What is a Big Red Button?
“When pushed, the device would say a pre-recorded word,” Dean said.
Dean recounted some of her experiences teaching elementary school students with moderate to severe intellectual disabilities. She said ability ranges vary drastically in her classroom, and one of her third graders, Tony, had never spoken before.
She used a device that was essentially a five-inch red button to help him learn to communicate.
Dean knew that Tony loved to eat and devised a plan for him to press the big red button to communicate that he’s ready to eat.
“Every single day I sat next to Tony, scoop up some delicious oatmeal on the spoon, offer him the spoon, and before allowing him to take a bite, I would get his hand and provide assistance to push the big red button. The button says ‘eat,’ and he would get a bite of his beloved oatmeal.”
Dean said she followed the process for most of the school year with little progress. From September to February, she helped Tony press the button more than 2,000 times.
The Big Red Button Moment
One day, however, Tony pressed the button on his own.
“Right here in front of my very eyes, I am watching the student ‘say’ his first word,” Dean said. “I am telling my assistants to look. I am telling my special ed teacher bestie at the other table to look.
“I’m doing a happy dance because MAN, THIS IS THE GREATEST MOMENT EVER! I am like the mama who hears her child say their first word.”
Dean shared the news with several of her colleagues and Tony’s mother but became discouraged when most didn’t share her enthusiasm.
The librarian at the school, Mrs. Hardee, did share Dean’s enthusiasm.
“But do you know what happened when I shared the story with Mrs. Hardee?” Dean asked. “She cried. Right there, standing across from me in the library—a teacher who has no personal relationship with this student whatsoever— cried.
“She felt the gravity of my excitement. She felt the momentum of the moment. She understood the hundreds of thousands of practice trials we had done had just paid off, and the seeds that we had planted at the beginning of the school year had bloomed.
“This was a moment worth celebrating and remembering. This is why I became a teacher. This big red button moment was my ‘why.’ This was a defining moment in my career.”
Remember Your Purpose
The librarian’s response helped Dean realize the significance of the moment.
“I realized that we all have our own ‘why’ that we entered the profession,” she said. “We all have our own big red button moments. The moments that make the hard work worth it, the moments where everything comes full circle, the moment where you feel like your purpose as a teacher has been fulfilled.
“You will hopefully have lots of big red button moments. Hopefully, they will be often, and you will have a multitude of things that remind you of your purpose.”
The Graduating Seniors
Eight soon-to-be graduates officially became educators after reciting the Oath for Graduating Educators during the Teacher Induction Ceremony.
The eight seniors include:
- Brooke Decker, Middle Level English Language Arts and Science (Leesville, S.C.)
- McKenzie Edmisten, Early Childhood and Elementary Education (Laurens, S.C.)
- Bailey Goldsmith, Early Childhood and Elementary Education (Moore, S.C.)
- Hannah McElroy, Secondary Education – History (Sumter, S.C.)
- Justin Nobles, Early Childhood and Elementary Education (Laurens, S.C.)
- Mary-Carmen Rollins, Early Childhood and Elementary Education (Greer, S.C.)
- Dillon Snead, Secondary Education – Math (Clinton, S.C.)
- Georgia Welborn, Early Childhood and Elementary Education (Clover, S.C.)