By Taylor Shillam
Tara Gray, Fifth Grade Ramsey Magnet School of Science
“There are things I love about teaching but, hands down, it is all about being with the kids,” says Tara Gray, fifth-grade teacher at Ramsey Magnet School of Science. “They are funny, honest, and they constantly challenge my ‘grown up’ perspective.”
Tara gathered countless memories during her 16 years as a teacher.
"Just the other day a student asked, ‘Who discovered the decimal?’ which led to, ‘Was the decimal discovered or invented?’” Tara says. “That led to, ‘Who decided decimals were a good idea, and do we really need them?’ These were real questions that students really asked."
Tara says that is what learning should feel like all the time. “I have never thought so deeply about a little dot before!"
One of her favorite memories as a teacher happened on a warm spring day during one of her first years of teaching the fifth grade. Students had just returned from recess, "hot, sweaty, and now drowsy, because it was just after lunch," she remembers. "I knew getting these students engaged was going to take a lot of effort.” But things quickly became interesting when she heard a student yell, “Oh, no. I can’t find the other snake.”
"Immediately, I tried to figure out which ‘first’ snake he was talking about,” Tara says.
“After I got him to calm down and stop yelling about the ‘other snake,’ he finally explained that at recess he had found two small snakes and put them in his pencil box. He had wanted to keep them safe, so he didn’t close his pencil box—then went to take a peek and discovered that one of the snakes had disappeared.”
Her once-sleepy class quickly jumped up to begin the search-and-rescue mission. “Thankfully, after every nook and cranny in the room was searched, we found little ‘other’ sitting right by the same pencil box he was supposed to be resting in,” Tara recalls. “I had an empty aquarium that we put both snakes in for the rest of the day, so they were safe until we released them back into the wild before the last bell.
“This memory is significant because it so aptly describes teaching. Kids are amazing thinkers, learners and problem-solvers, but they are also kids. Sometimes they, and we, need a snake emergency to shake things up and remind us that life is fun and unpredictable.”
Tara also loves that her profession can reach beyond the classroom and into the community. “Everyone in our community has something to offer to these kiddos, and we love bringing in architects, nurses, opera singers, home gardeners or unicyclists,” she says. “As teachers, we are amazing at finding unexpected academic connections and turning a fun show-and-tell into a hands-on lesson. I would encourage community members to call and see how they can get involved.”
For every student, Tara hopes to have planted two life lessons in their heart by the time they leave her classroom. “First, I want every single student to know that they are uniquely valuable. It is not their success or failures that define their worth,” she says. “Secondly, and emphatically, I want students to know learning is not about getting everything right. Embrace mistakes. Try things that are too hard for you. Challenge yourself in areas that you know you will fail at first—and then watch and see what amazing things happen!”