Guest Opinions

What inspired me to return to teaching after almost 20 years

Leona Marshall Libby Middle School in West Richland is trying a pilot program that personalizes student learning.
Leona Marshall Libby Middle School in West Richland is trying a pilot program that personalizes student learning. Tri-City Herald

It’s been almost 20 years since I earned my teaching degree, and yet I spent the last 17 years as a busy stay-at-home mom to five children. From PTA president to substitute teacher, I remained active in the schools, but I had applied and been accepted to a master’s program in family counseling with no intentions of teaching again.

So why, instead, am I teaching middle school full time now?

Last year, Libby Middle School joined the Summit Learning Program, a network of more than 350 schools across the country that have adopted a personalized approach to education. Middle school is a time of transition. Children are wrestling with more complicated ideas and integrating knowledge across disciplines through STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) projects. They are also getting ready for high school where they will have more independence and responsibility.

Summit’s approach to personalized learning emphasizes relationships between teachers and students through one-on-one mentoring and individualized support. Through a project-based curriculum, students practice setting goals, developing plans and reflecting on their work — the kind of skills that are essential in school and in life.

I’ll admit that at first I was skeptical.

This approach meant that students would learn in new ways. As a parent and a teacher, I know that change can be uncomfortable. Yet, I trusted the teachers and administrators who put this program into motion. My daughter would be part of the pilot program, and I would be able to watch closely as I spent time substituting in these classrooms.

The transition was rigorous, but my daughter was flourishing in this program that focuses on self-directed learning, habits of success, and mentors who connect with their students one-on-one.

Personalized learning isn’t about making school easier or harder.

It’s about providing the right challenges to students so they can learn and grow. I saw that the new approach allowed teachers to provide more support and feedback to students who were struggling — and more flexibility to students ready to move forward.

Instead of being branded as low-performing, students had opportunities to learn from their mistakes and develop the mindset that with effort, they can improve.

Here’s what I mean: One day, a student who I had known over the last couple of years approached me with misty eyes and said, “Mrs. Snow, I just got a 10 out of 10 on my content assessment! I used to be a D student — but now that doesn’t matter. Now I have a way to understand and there is time for me to ‘get it!’ ”

Seeing that child, who was previously unmotivated and defeated, come alive right in front of me was the catalyst for my decision to be more than a Summit mom. I wanted to use my skills to support these students as they took charge of their education and realized the amazing potential for success that was being placed before them.

Life is funny that way, but I couldn’t help myself. I love the Summit Learning Program, and after being exposed to the success of what I’ve witnessed, I wanted to be back in the classroom.

Trisha Snow is a sixth grade English Language Arts teacher at Leona Marshall Libby Middle School.