The Courage to Try Something New: Reflections from the 2017-18 Teacher of the Year

By Cicely Woodard, 2017-18 Tennessee Teacher of the Year

When I reflect on my year of service as the 2018 Tennessee Teacher of the Year, I am overcome with emotions. My experiences have invoked so many feelings that I hold dear to my heart.

For example, I remember standing in a circle with 55 State Teachers of the Year at our induction program in California in January. In that moment I felt a deep sense of commitment: commitment to my students to prepare them for their futures, commitment to educators in Tennessee to share my voice, and a commitment to myself to make the most of this year. I am grateful for the opportunities to share my teacher voice this year through giving speeches, serving on panels and committees, and instructing pre-service teachers.

Then, during Washington Week in April, I walked into the front doors of the White House, and I literally could not stop the tears. I thought about the deep history behind the building, and I was overwhelmed with gratitude that I get to live the life of my dreams through teaching. I was reminded of why I show up every day at school. I want my students to be able to live the lives of their dreams as well.

At Space Camp in July, we had many unforgettable experiences, but one stood out as simply priceless. Most of the other State Teachers of the Year were quite excited to try the multi-axis trainer that simulated free fall in space. This was not my idea of a good time. I was terrified. I heard the profound words of support from my colleagues during my time of apprehension. Luke from Michigan said, “Cicely, you can do this, but whatever you decide we will support you.” Cara, from Massachusetts, sincerely proclaimed, “I don’t want you to walk out of here wondering what if.” Josh from Arizona looked at me in the eyes and softly spoke, “Try everything.” I got on the multi-axis trainer. I lived to tell about it. And afterwards I was greeted with cheers, hugs, and high-fives. I faced my fear that day, and I was reminded that teaching is about being courageous enough to try new things, to motivate our students, and to support them in the process.

I was thrilled to start a new adventure at a different school in August, teaching 8th graders and surrounded by colleagues from all over Tennessee who share my passion for an effective education for all students and who understand that teaching and learning matter. What we do every day for the students and families that we serve is truly impactful. It has been my honor to serve as the 2018 Tennessee Teacher of the Year, and it is my hope and prayer that, as we begin this school year, educators everywhere will have a renewed sense of commitment to students, gratitude for the enduring relationships that we build at school, and the courage to try something new.