Sunday, May 1, 2016


By my count, this is the fifth installment of Tennessee Teacher Voice, and I think it’s past time for me to formally introduce myself.

My name is Mike Stein, and I’m a teachaholic. Now that I’ve publicly made that admission, I have some confessions to make.
Confession #1: My passion for teaching has always been there.

There are those moments in your life where you know exactly where you were when a certain event occurred, like when John Lennon and John F. Kennedy were shot, or when tickets for Star Wars: The Force Awakens went on sale. Knowing that I wanted to be an educator is one of those life-changing events. I remember it well.

I was in seventh grade math class in Cameron Middle School in Nashville, and my teacher was Mrs. Robinson. She taught math with a multiplicity of worksheets and her primary interactions with students were mostly negative ones. I had math right after lunch, and the class returned from lunch rather noisy. Mrs. Robinson fussed at us and, as punishment, she gave us additional math worksheets to complete. I was livid. But I was also an introverted dork (hence my excitement over Star Wars) and kept it to myself. I remember promising myself that one day I would become a teacher, and that I would treat students better than I was being treated.

Confession #2: One time, I wasn’t good enough.

After graduating from Tennessee Tech, I went home to Nashville, where I was born and raised, because I wanted to complete the circle and help students like myself. My first position was at an alternative high school for students who were academically challenged. It was certainly arduous as a first year educator teaching four different subjects to students who could care less; however, I absolutely loved it. I look back on those days with the fondest of memories.

Unfortunately, Metro Nashville decided to close that school, despite its success, and open an identical version at the middle school level. That started a whirlwind leading to me eventually teaching in four different schools in my first three years. Due to the transient nature of students there, I got transferred three times by the district, and I requested a transfer once for personal reasons. My last placement was at an inner-city middle school.

I landed there due to administrative transfer and it was already five weeks into school. I had never taught middle school before, and I once again found myself teaching four different classes, but this time to 8th grade students who were on their fourth principal in four years. At the end of the school year, the principal told me that she saw some brilliance in my teaching, and I did a good job holding my own, but she felt that I wasn’t ready to be granted tenure. My teaching career in Nashville was over.

Confession #3: That failure lead to success.

That principal’s decision certainly delivered a gigantic blow to my dream of being an educator. In a completely serendipitous way, I ended up getting hired at Coffee County High School. While teaching at the high school, I have had the pleasure and opportunity to serve in many teacher leadership roles and to present at a handful of different education conferences. It’s amazing how stability, being granted my first leadership position--English Department Head--and using Twitter as the best form of free professional development out there, have positively snowballed into me becoming a staunch advocate for my profession and into developing a growth mindset and thirst for learning that is nearly impossible to quench. 

Confession #4: I am one of many. 

Coffee County is full of excellent educators who share my level of passion and enthusiasm for teaching. #TeamCoffee, as we affectionately call ourselves, is full of teachaholics like myself. New education initiatives seemingly come on a yearly basis, which is part of Tennessee’s growing pains of becoming the fastest improving state in education in the country. #TeamCoffee approaches these new initiatives with a solutions-oriented viewpoint with students remaining at the heart of how we operate daily basis. Given the comparatively low teacher salaries and no cost of living increase for at least a decade, we are doing some phenomenal things our classrooms. The citizens of Coffee County should be very proud of the quality of our schools.

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