Candy Gonzales doesn’t keep track of how many hours she works—or thinks about work—each week.
“I probably don’t want to know,” she said, laughing.
But Gonzales does reflect each week on how she feels after another five days of teaching at Prairie Heights Middle School in Evans, Colorado. It’s a weekly reminder that despite some of the long days she may have, she feels fulfilled and proud to be a teacher.
“I’m well aware that I’m a workaholic because I truly love to work,” Gonzales said. “But it’s mostly that I love what I do. Love, love, love it. I love working with my students and giving them opportunities in life they otherwise wouldn’t have.”
Gonzales said her love of teaching has increased significantly in recent years because of her school’s emphasis on educating the whole student. As a multilingual language teacher, Gonzales has a deep appreciation for helping students grow, learn, and find their place in the world.
This school year, Gonzales has over 20 students who recently arrived in the United States and has helped welcome them into the Prairie Heights community by creating a safe space for them to learn and blossom.
“I get so much joy in seeing these students come in each year, often not being able to speak English at all, and by the end of the year you see their growth, and they’re like, ‘Wow,’” Gonzales said. “That’s what keeps me going, because you see the real positive impact that we’re making.”
Gonzales said her fulfillment also comes from the relationships she’s been able to form with the families and caregivers of her students. By being connected to the people in her students’ world, Gonzales is able to better understand each individual and, in turn, feel more invested and purposeful.
“I have great partnerships with the families,” Gonzales said. “They all trust me. They all know that I’m only doing the best I possibly can for their children. That type of support is what we all need. It’s all about relationships.”
‘There are so many different ways to reach students’
Gonzales isn’t blind to the harsh reality of many of her teaching peers throughout the country. A Gradient Learning Poll about “The Great Teacher Resignation” found that only 27% of teachers said it is very likely that they will still teach five years from now.
Gonzales offers an understanding nod and is sympathetic to those educators who are suffering from burnout. Gonzales acknowledges feeling overwhelmed herself at times over the past few years, which were exacerbated by the pandemic.
But she said educators can help boost their morale, individually and collectively, by helping their school’s communities embrace a whole-student approach to learning.
“It’s so rewarding to watch them gain confidence in the classroom and give them that opportunity to have both academic discourse but also that bonding time with the other students,” Gonzales said. “That’s the emotional part of learning that helps them grow in so many different ways.”
Gonzales recently received a literal reminder of that growth when she reconnected in person with a few former students. Originally from Thailand, the students are now college graduates who are living and thriving in Omaha, Nebraska.
“It’s not always about reading, writing, and math. It’s about everything else. It’s about getting them ready for the real world.”
“It was so cool for me because they were talking about how much fun they had in my classroom and of how much laughter we all shared together,” Gonzales said. “I needed to hear that more than I realized. It reminded me again of this huge impact we can make on people’s lives.”
In the Gradient Learning Poll on the teaching profession, 80% of teachers said they feel more job satisfaction when they’re supporting students beyond academic development. Also, the top reason given for becoming a teacher was the ability “to make a difference in the world.”
Gonzales said it’s important for educators—especially those who may be feeling overextended or overtired—to focus on the smaller differences they can make each day in their classrooms. Over time, those small moments of growth will likely lead to an enriched teaching experience.
“There are so many different ways to reach students,” Gonzales said. “You have to really work at understanding them and giving them time to be creative and innovative. It’s not always about reading, writing, and math. It’s about everything else.
“It’s about getting them ready for the real world and, as teachers, we get to be a big part of that. That’s just so cool.”