Ten years, that’s how long I’ve known Tahvia Shaw, Principal of Terrace Community Middle School in Thonotosassa, Florida. But back then she was just Ms. Shaw, my 7th and 8th-grade Algebra teacher. I still remember the first time I entered her classroom; the chairs were in a circle, and we went around the room to break the ice on the first day.
Small class sizes, rigorous academic programs, and an involved teacher/parent community meant that there was no shortage of support pushing me toward my goals. But still, I struggled with a lot of anxiety and insecurity on that first day, and most days after.
Math was one challenge in particular that often brought me to panic induced tears. After a particularly bad breakdown during one of her exams, Ms. Shaw had a student escort me to the nurse, and let me stay during my lunch hour to finish the test.
From then on, she made me feel heard, respected, and comfortable in a way that most adults outside of school didn’t. In hindsight, I notice that she had shown me something rare: the value of challenging students academically while developing and preserving their emotional intelligence.
Without even realizing it, I was becoming excited and driven to be involved in my own learning in the way that my teachers were.
Experiments in the school parking lot, Jeopardy reviews, and acting out plays in English class meant I never knew what to expect from a day at school; which didn’t leave a lot of room for indifference and nerves.
So after 2 years in her classroom, countless questions about life and math later, it was a bittersweet goodbye to someone who I looked forward to seeing every day.
In hindsight, she had shown me something rare: the value of challenging students academically while developing and preserving their emotional intelligence.
When she was promoted to Principal, I was so proud to know the school was in the hands of someone who understood the responsibility to impact young minds positively. Even during the pivotal moments of her career, she still took time after school to meet with me to talk about the pivotal moments in my life; from starting high school, graduating college and finding my first job.
I felt compelled to keep up with her and the other teachers who had shaped my successes, most recently at the school’s 20th-anniversary gala.
And for good reason.
I don’t know where I would be without my experience at TCMS: maybe with teachers who cared a little less, winged their lesson plans, and didn’t take the time to know their students, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to own my professional and personal responsibilities.
This week especially, I’m thankful for every mentor who invested in my personal development and saw me as more than as a test score or success metric. They have ingrained in me such strong values of kindness, understanding, and appreciation. So instead of just going through the motions to #ThankATeacher this week, think about what attributes you owe to the teachers in your life and how we can support these teachers who take the time to motivate students beyond the classroom.