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Q & A

Voice of Experience


By B. Denise Hawkins


Like many classroom teachers, Lillian Orlich remembers falling in love with the profession each time she “played teacher” as a girl. Orlich says her high school teachers served as roles models for the educator she became in 1950. Today, the 86-year old, NEA Life Member is a full-time counselor at Osbourn Park High School in Manassas, Va. We invited “Miss O” (as the school’s students, faculty, and parents call her) to share her wisdom with NEA Student Program members whose teaching journey has just begun.

With more than 60 years in the classroom as a teacher and school counselor, what do you want NEA Student Program members to know?

Becoming a teacher will take plenty of hard work. You will have to spend lots of time, not only preparing for your lessons, but dealing with students and with your colleagues. But at the end of the day, it has to be fun for you. You will enter the profession with your aims and goals, but give yourself time and realize that nothing happens overnight. Sometimes goals may take years to realize or they may even change. My advice, set goals for each day, week, and year.

What qualities do you think are important for tomorrow’s teachers to exhibit in the classroom?

Patience, a great deal of patience—with oneself and with other people. Be open-minded and willing to listen to advice and counsel and hopefully heed it. Observe and talk to other teachers to see what you can discover; you’ll see in them things that you want to do as well as things that you don’t want to do.

When you think about the development of teachers and the selection of new teachers, what things are important and should be considered?

Conversations with student teachers and prospective teachers are equally as important as their grades and GPA. Through conversation, we can find out what teacher candidates believe, want to achieve, and what goals they have. We can also gauge their enthusiasm about teaching. That’s a biggie.

What are among the most important lessons or guiding messages you have offered to your students over the years?

Ask questions—in class or privately. Students shouldn’t ever think that their questions are dumb or not worth asking. The same goes for new teachers: Ask questions, and don’t be afraid to go the source.

Teachers are people who touch hearts and open minds, help inspire and shape the future for some students. But sometimes, as teachers, we don’t know that we’ve done these things until years later when students return to your office. And sometimes we never know.

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